So far, so good for Jonah Williams’ transition to right tackle

CINCINNATI — Bengals coach Zac Taylor said if he didn’t know Jonah Williams’ background, he could have easily assumed Williams has always been a right tackle because of how natural he looks in the transition from the left side.

Williams hasn’t played right tackle since his freshman year at Alabama in 2016 but is making the switch after the Bengals signed left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. this offseason.

Through the first 10 practices of training camp, Williams has been alternating days with Jackson Carman with the first-team offense. Williams, who is coming off an offseason knee surgery, has been pleased with his progress so far.

“It feels good, and I think it feels better every day, which is, for me, the most important thing,” Williams said. “Coming in, I knew it’s like, my first time playing over there in almost seven years. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so the first couple days, I think I was getting my feel for it. But I think the last two or three practices have started to really feel comfortable over there. And that allows me to just focus on the little things and the sort of small technical things instead of just being like, ‘Oh, it feels weird over here.’”

Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack said he’s been impressed with how Williams has looked.

“Hats off to him,” Pollack said. “It shows that he took the challenge, and he worked on it every chance he could get while he was rehabbing his knee. And he’s a good player. He’s athletic, he’s a smart player and he’s just grooving that power hand and that power foot. It’s really been a lot more seamless and smooth than I would anticipate for any guy. So it just shows the quality player that Jonah is. So I’m really excited about where he’s at in his transition right now.”

Pollack would have loved to have the starting right tackle spot locked down already, but the competition is good for both Williams and Carman. Pollack noted Carman “jumps out as far as his athleticism and power” and although he still needs to work on his consistency, he bounces back from a down day.

It’s early but the Bengals released their first depth chart of the preseason Monday with Williams listed as the first-team right tackle. More will be known about that battle this week.

Taylor has said he is open to giving starters some snaps in the preseason, unlike previous years, but Williams said the joint practice with the Green Bay Packers on Wednesday also will be a good test, similar to what he would get from playing in that first preseason game against the Packers on Friday.

“I think that having this joint practice, that speed of those practices is like a game, so I think that that’ll certainly be good for me,” Williams said. “And ... Zac does a good job with how we do practice. It’s not super long. We don’t do these super drawn-out things. He takes care of us. When we go, it’s full speed and it’s hard. It’s game speed. So I already feel like I’m getting those reps in these last padded practices and have a lot more before the season starts. So we’ll just keep on doing whatever they ask.”

The Bengals are asking a lot of Williams right now in having him switch positions while also coming back from offseason knee surgery, but he said he feels good at this point in both regards.

Last year, he experienced a subluxated knee cap during the first half of the game at Baltimore in October but it slipped back into place and he re-entered the game after halftime and finished the regular season. In the first round of the playoffs, he dislocated his left knee cap and that ended his season. The right knee healed on its own with treatment but he needed surgery to fix the left one.

Coming off the injury and playing a new position make training camp especially important for Williams.

“I think it’s a combination of coming off of this injury and also changing sides at the same time, it’s kind of a double whammy there, so I think it’s super important to get these reps in,” Williams said. “So I come in here every day, like, just knowing that I’m going to leave the building better than I was when I came in. And, you know, it’s what I’ve been doing so far and I’m just going to keep on doing that.”

Williams spends 14 hours a day at the team facility, participating in all the meetings, weight room sessions and practices the other guys do but also getting extra treatment and strength training to make sure his knee stays strong.

The knee isn’t something Williams thinks about during practices anymore, and he wants to keep it that way.

“My knee feels great,” Williams said. “I haven’t had any setbacks with it. There’s been a couple of days where the trainers have kind of held me back a little bit just because they don’t want to cause too much inflammation or whatever. But I don’t feel limited by my knee at all. I don’t think about it when I’m out there. So I’m super happy with how it feels.”

Williams didn’t initially handle the news he would be switching sides on the offensive line well because Brown’s signing caught him by surprise, but he said he is just focused on playing right tackle at a high level on what he said could be the best offensive line in the league.

This year is a big one for Williams, as he’s playing on a fifth-year option the Bengals picked up last April and trying to earn his second contract – as either a left or right tackle, in Cincinnati, or elsewhere.

“I think that the NFL so hard, and the competition you go against is so high that if you don’t come in with that attitude every year, then you’re gonna get killed,” Williams said. “And so, I think I definitely feel that. But I felt that my whole career. I’m trying not to think about the big picture like that, like, it’s easier for me to attack every day. It’s kind of hard for me to think about big picture stuff like that. But I’m excited about all those opportunities. I just know that, you know, I believe in myself, and my ability and I know that when I do things the right way like I do that I’ll be able to achieve what I want to achieve. So just focus on today, but I know that’ll help me in the long run.”

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