To say that the Cincinnati Bengals have had the Midas touch with reclamation free agents would be an understatement. Many correctly point to a recent track record of excellence with their work in the NFL Draft, but what has stabilized the success of this team since 2009 is the bringing in of "washed up" veterans and having them be heavy contributors. They also have been great mentors for the young classes of rookies brought in over that period of time.
Where the Bengals' cornerback group has been affected the most (positively speaking) by free agency, the offensive line has been a unit built primarily through the draft. Last season, journeyman offensive lineman Mike Pollak joined the Bengals as a backup after a few uninspiring years with the Colts and the Panthers. Some believed that the cause was Pollak playing guard instead of center, which is the position he excelled at in college. Others began to think that he simply wasn't living up to his second round billing.
Cincinnati suffered injuries to both guard positions in 2013. Kevin Zeitler missed a month with a foot injury and then Clint Boling tore a knee ligament in early December, ending the rest of his season. Pollak became a valuable and effective commodity on the offensive line in the wake of some bad injuries. So much so, that the team decided to bring him back this offseason to the tune of three years and $4.8 million.
Why Pollak Makes The List:
It's a very strong possibility that Pollak was brought back by the Bengals with the intention of making him a starter in 2014. Initially, it looked like he was a lock as the starting center, but the coaching staff became infatuated with rookie Russell Bodine and moved up in the fourth round to grab him. Now, he's in a competition for that spot there.
It's also becoming a distinct possibility that Clint Boling, the incumbent starter at left guard, might land on the PUP List to start the year as he rehabs a late-season knee injury. Pollak filled in well for both Boling and Zeitler late in the season and that was a big reason for the team bringing him back. If Boling isn't ready by Week One, we will likely see Pollak in that spot with Bodine manning center.
The seven-year veteran makes the list because new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson wants to run the ball. Bodine has been seeing some first-team snaps at center in OTAs and minicamp, but that appears to be only because Pollak has a minor knee issue and had been sitting. If he's healthy, Pollak will most likely be a starter at either center or left guard by the time the 2014 season kicks off. If he's able to get more push than they were in the interior at times last year, the team will vastly improve it's running game.
We are of the opinion that running the Bengals is of utmost importance, not only for the Bengals' offense, but the team as a whole. With an improved and consistent running game, it will take heat off of Andy Dalton and will allow the team to chew clock. It's a formula for success in the AFC North.
Though he tried his best, Kyle Cook was never able to re-gain his form of years past, so the team parted ways with the veteran center this offseason. Pollak was an outstanding center in college (so much so that he was drafted in the second round), but has never played that position in the NFL. That, combined with the Bodine pick gives the impression that Pollak will move to the left guard spot, but that is also something that could take place in 2015 as well.
Regardless, Pollak should be a starter this year and he will likely provide a boost up front. If he does, he'll be a valuable member of the offense and finally could become a "breakout" guy in the NFL at 29 years old. Plus, the guy likes one of my favorite alternative rock groups in 311, so I have to add him on here because of that, don't I?