Bengals Coverage

Bengals Beat: The Never-Ending Search To Perfect Joe Burrow’s Protection

INDIANAPOLIS — The perfect quarterback deserves at least near-perfect protection.

That has been the most challenging part of Duke Tobin’s roster build over the last three years. And the effort is likely going to continue this offseason as the Bengals are in the market for a starting right tackle.

Whether La’el Collins is a salary cap casualty (and the team would save between $6 million or $7.7 million in cap space) or Collins is still on the roster rehabbing from the Christmas Eve torn ACL in New England, the Bengals are going to need someone to step in and play right tackle.

There are several possibilities.

Internally, there’s Jackson Carman moving from left tackle, where he finished the season filling in for Jonah Williams. Offensive line coach Frank Pollack acknowledged Wednesday before offensive linemen start working out at the combine that Carman is definitely in the mix. There’s Hakeem Adeniji, who has experience from the last two seasons at right tackle, including his time in Super Bowl LVI and filling in for Collins at the end of the season.

There’s free agency. Orlando Brown Jr. may or may not get a second franchise tag from Kansas City. Mike McGlinchey could leave San Francisco and Kaleb McGary is expected to leave Atlanta. Those are just three of the names out there. These are only possibilities if the Bengals contractually resolve the situation with Collins.

And then there’s the draft.

Paris Johnson Jr. (Ohio State) and Peter Skoronski (Northwestern) won’t likely be there at 28 for the Bengals. But could Georgia’s Broderick Jones? Or Oklahoma Anton Harrison? The Bengals lack of success in drafting and developing offensive lineman is no secret. They did well with Jonah Williams, who still had to overcome a torn pectoral muscle in his rookie year to develop into a very solid tackle. But he’s in his fifth year and then the Bengals will have another decision next season.

“We just need to keep adding those kinds of guys,” Pollack said.”This is an eat’em up, chew you up kind of business and you got to be tough as nails. It’s not physically tough, it’s mentally tough. It’s the nature of the beast, man. It’s not for the faint of heart. We are looking for guys that can handle that, guys that are going to stand up to the test and push through the ebbs and flows. The season, if you look back at our season last year, everyone was oh my God panicking in the first two weeks. You can’t do that.

“It’s a long season, put your blinders on and go. You need to have guys that understand that and work through that, don’t run around with their heads cut off. The league wants to rewrite the history books everyday, that’s just the nature of what the NFL has become. It’s made everyone richer, but it’s a lot of distraction and BS at the same time. What’s important is the football, you got to have guys that understand that and that’s our approach with the Bengals, that’s my approach in the o-line room and we are looking for guys that fit in there.”

How realistic is drafting a tackle and asking them to step in and start in the NFL right away?

“I think it’s hard to do,” Pollack said. “No matter where you pick in the draft. Especially at the back end of the draft. Those kind of guys are going to go in the top five picks, top 10 if you are lucky. I’ve worked with some of those types of guys and they are coming in having develop on something in their tool box, if you will. Not that it can’t be done. Never say nothing can’t be done, you can find a starter in the third day of the draft. Just depends on who that guy is, what’s he made up of and then, the draft is interesting. We are always looking to find those guys at every pick.

The Bengals are set at four of five spots on the line, which is progress in and of itself. Williams is the left tackle and Pollack and Brian Callahan indicated he isn’t likely to move. Cordell Volson will be in Year No. 2 at left guard. Ted Karras is set at center and Alex Cappa is the right guard.

“Comfortable with all those guys. Comfortable with LC when he’s healthy at the right tackle spot. Very comfortable with those guys,” Pollack said. “They improved over the course of the year. They got really good experience understanding what those guys can and cannot do.”

When Alex Cappa went down against Baltimore in the regular season finale, the chances of getting back to the Super Bowl took a huge hit, as was eventually borne out against Chris Jones and the Chiefs in the AFC Championship.

“He’s got an uncanny ability to know where to help in pass pro,” Pollack said. “He’s excellent 1 on 1 in pass pro, but he knows where to help, where his eyes need to be, the depth of the pocket as far as his relationship with the center and tackle, where he needs to help. He understands stunts very well, dogs or pressures that are associated with that, where he needs to help. He’s excellent with his eyes. He’s just a talented player.

“I thought he was playing at a Pro Bowl level when he was healthy. That was obviously a guy we missed. Everyone would miss a guy at that level. He was doing really well. He’s a talented guy. He’s a smart guy. He’s got great awareness. He understands the complexity of not only the scheme, but what we’re attacking on the defense and what they’re doing and where some of the issues might show up and the adjustments that’s coming around the corner and getting some other guys on the same page.”

Pollack said Cappa and Jonah Williams would’ve likely returned from their injuries and played in the Super Bowl had the Bengals beaten the Chiefs.

Pollack will laugh if he’s asked to guarantee anything for right tackle.

“I laugh because I’ve been in this league long enough to say we are not wedded to anything,” Pollack said. “Tomorrow everything could change and who knows where everyone is going to be. That’s just the nature of the league. Everyone understands that. The league is ultra-competitive. Everyone is here this week to get better at every spot they could possibly get better at. That’s why this league is so great and so impressive players play in this league because it’s really competitive.”

Other nuggets from Indianapolis:

  • Punting competition for Drue Chrisman:

  • Darrin Simmons acknowledged Wednesday that things didn’t end well for second-year punter Drue Chrisman, whose 54-yard low line drive punt allowed Skyy Moore to return the punt 29 yards (absent a missed block in the back call on the return) and set up KC’s game-winning field goal following the Joseph Ossai push of Patrick Mahomes. It was the punt that needed to travel to the sideline but never came close to getting there. That, and too many 4th-and-long situations spelled doom.

    “Well unfortunately we got stuck in a lot of spots in that Kansas City game where they were in fourth and long where they could double vise us,” Simmons said. “We haven’t faced a whole lot of double vise, where both of our gunners are doubled. We didn’t get off the line of scrimmage great, we had a couple guys that were out of their field lanes, frankly. I don’t think the punt was exactly the punt we were looking for, it was more down the middle of the field and it was lower than what we really wanted.

    “We just didn’t do a good job of covering it up. We didn’t stay in our lanes. It’s difficult with the height of the punt that’s difficult to defeat blocks fast enough to get back over the top and get back in the proper leverage positions. We did a poor job of that, and it cost us big time.”

    As for competition, Simmons acknowledged that’s it’s a real possibility, even if it doesn’t come from Kevin Huber.

    “I that that he (Chrisman) got thrust into a role to play right away,” Simmons said. “If you’re not playing for a couple years, after not playing in his first year out of college, I thought he came and was solid to start with. I think the level of consistency has got to keep improving. I do believe that we’ll bring in competition for that spot, I don’t think that spot’s completely settled in my mind yet.

    “All in all, I think he did a good job in certain situations getting the ball down the field. I can point to a couple of punts, he had a really big one in the New England game, he had a big one in the Tampa game. He had several good punts for us at opportune times for us. I think there was one in the Baltimore game maybe too that was an important one there late. I still think we want to try to improve our team, and if that means Drue’s apart of it, then he’s going to have to win the job again.”

  • Respect for Germaine Pratt and hugs for Joseph Ossai:
  • Everyone saw – and heard – what happened after the Kansas City game, when free agent-to-be Germaine Pratt voiced his frustration with Joseph Ossai for the push in the back on Patrick Mahomes. Well, Lou Anarumo made it clear that if the Bengals could find a way to bring Pratt back, he’d welcome him with open arms.

    “Oh yeah. That’s Germaine,” Anarumo told me. “That’s Germaine. He’s a guy that wants to be out there every snap. He is a guy that’s as competitive as they come but also got a little bit of a bad rap on the end of the Kansas City game (on locker room criticism of Ossai). But (Pratt) came back the next day and stood in front of everybody and said, ‘Hey, I wasn’t a good teammate.’ To me, that’s who and what we’re all about. (Pratt felt) ‘I had a moment but let me let everybody know that’s not who I am. I’m a great teammate.’ I love Germaine. I hope he’s back, too. He’s one of our leaders and he’s a heckuva a football player.”

    And his conversation with Joseph Ossai since the play?

    “I just gave him a hug and said, ‘Move on. Just move on and make a play next year,'” Anarumo said. “I’ve seen him multiple times in the facility. I just go back to I don’t even bring it up. He knows what happened. We all saw it. Just move on. Let’s get ourselves back in that situation so you can make a play next year.”

    Pratt had another tweet this week about wanting to play three downs.

    “It whatever best fits the situation,” Anarumo said following a laugh. “We have a lot of different pieces we can use and sometimes its Germaine, sometimes it was Akeem (Davis-Gaither), sometimes it was six, seven DBs. It all plays out on who we’re playing and what we have to defend. More about what fits that week more than anything.”

    Why did he laugh?

    “Because I don’t see the tweets,” he said.

  • Brian Callahan on RB1 and TE1 needs:
  • The Bengals could be in the market for a new starting running back and tight end, depending on what happens with Joe Mixon’s contract and pending free agent Hayden Hurst.

    What would Callahan and Bengals coaches be looking for in this draft class? Adding an explosive element to the run game would be priority No. 1 in any running back.

    “You want guys that have put on tape that they have the long speed to break long runs,” Callahan said. “That’s a part of it. Being able to separate from the secondary players, which generally speaking, most running backs are going to be slower than the guys in the secondary chasing them. But you want guys that show the ability on tape to hit home runs. Guys that can break tackles. Breaking tackles is a huge part of explosiveness in the run game.

    “We can only get so many hats on hats. And there’s always going to be at least one free guy for a back. And they gotta be able to make that player miss. That’s how you generate explosive runs. We can do a better job than we’ve done trying to get guys into those spaces better and giving them chances at explosive runs. Sometimes, some schemes aren’t as friendly for that. Some of the gap schemes and stuff can be a little bit more of a bloody style of run game and not as exciting explosively. Gotta find ways to mix both.”

    Callahan acknowledged that Hurst’s production was a pleasant surprise because the staff just hadn’t seen a lot of him. Hurst only had two regular season touchdowns but caught 52 passes for 414 yards, including 26 first downs, which was the second-highest total of his five-year career. and then in the postseason, he had 13 catches for 141 yards, seven first downs and a touchdown.

    “I thought Hayden really stepped up and provided us a ton of value,” Callahan added Wednesday. “I didn’t expect him to be probably as good as he was for us, just because his tape was limited. We knew he had the capability of being a highly-productive player. But we weren’t sure what it would look like for us. He came in and did a fantastic job being able to create explosive plays. He was really tough and physical in the run game, which is what we weren’t sure we were going to get in that regard. I thought he really developed as a blocker.

    “His toughness was on display. His energy was on display. Really enjoyed getting to know him and having him. I expressed to him before we left how much he meant to our team and the energy he provided. And hopefully we find a way to get the guys that we like back. Again, those aren’t necessarily things that I can control but I know that he was a really valuable part of our offense and brought a dynamic ability in the pass game, that as you watch all the free agents out there and I watch his tape again, he’s a really, really good tight end and hopefully we have a chance to bring him back.”

    Mike Petraglia

    Joined CLNS Media in 2017. Covered Boston sports as a radio broadcaster, reporter, columnist and TV and video talent since 1993. Covered Boston Red Sox for MLB.com from 2000-2007 and the New England Patriots for ESPN Radio, WBZ-AM, SiriusXM, WEEI, WEEI.com and CLNS since 1993. Featured columnist for the Boston Celtics on CelticsBlog.

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