The Dallas Cowboys, much like the Cincinnati Bengals, are trying to rebound without rebuilding. But even with that comes change in some form. Both coaching staffs have let go of and seen multiple departures of position and assistant coaches under their longtime head coaches Jason Garrett and Marvin Lewis respectively. The latest of these changes was Dallas releasing offensive line coach Frank Pollack, whom Cincinnati hired to the same position almost immediately. That came one week after Paul Alexander was fired after holding the spot in Cincinnati for nearly a quarter of a century.
The reasoning behind the termination of Pollack and Alexander both involve some form of scapegoating. Alexander had been with the Bengals since the mid-90s, and has helped develop some of the best offensive linemen in the team’s history a la Willie Anderson, Rich Braham, Levi Jones, and Andrew Whitworth. But his recent track record of putting together a younger group with draft picks of which he had great influence, is the primary reason why the offensive line as a whole has dramatically regressed in a matter of two years. His fate was decided by the time quarterback Andy Dalton hit the ground for the 80th time in two years.
The story behind Pollack, to me, is slightly more gray. Pollack joined the Cowboys in 2013 as the assistant offensive line coach to Bill Callahan, who served as the team’s offensive coordinator as well as offensive line coach. Callahan left for the Redskins in 2015 and Pollack took his spot as the offensive line coach. In the five years Pollack was there, Dallas added Travis Frederick, Zach Martin and La’el Collins through the draft to go with Tyron Smith and then left guard Ronald Leary and right tackle Doug Free. In 2016, the group was widely considered the best offensive line in professional football.
When 2017 came around, things changed a bit. Leary joined the Broncos in free agency and Free retired. They still had their best three players, but it wasn’t the same group. Collins was inserted in at right tackle, and Jonathan Cooper, a former first round pick, was brought in to compete with Chaz Green at left guard. The group was still playing at a high level, but Smith started to have issues with his back. Green and fellow backup Byron Bell struggled mightily in place of Smith, and even when Smith came back, the Cowboys were 5-6. Smith wouldn’t finish the season due to a knee injury, and the Cowboys missed the playoffs.
Most blame the terrible performance of Green against Atlanta—the first game Smith missed—as the beginning of the downfall of Dallas’ season. And when Green was continuing to play over Cooper at left guard, despite not yielding better results there, the blame had to go somewhere at the end of the day. And since offensive coordinator Scott Linehan would be kept on staff, the finger was eventually pointed toward Pollack, who didn’t have the final say of the starting lineup.
So now we’re here, Pollack gets a fresh start with a group that is nowhere as talented as the one in Jerry World. The big question is, what will Pollack’s influence be on building a better line?
One thing that I know about the way the Bengals operate is how they rely on their position coaches more than most teams in scouting and drafting. Without a true GM and only four regional scouts on staff, much responsibility is placed on the assistants in the offseason to pickup the work their scouts do during the season. This is why Alexander had such power in trading up for Russell Bodine in 2014, and banging the table for both Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher in 2015. But Alexander was with the team for so long and surely developed a large amount of trust with both Mike Brown and Lewis.
Pollack is the latest of several new position coaches for the Bengals, but he’s different than other fresh hires. The team had interviewed at least four other candidates for the job before Pollack was fired. Not even a full 24 hours went by after Dallas relived Pollack of his duties before he’s hired by Cincinnati without even an announcement of an interview or any reported interest. The Bengals wasted no time in bringing him on, and I think that speaks volumes.
The Bengals know they messed up the offensive line last year, and appear to be doing the right things in turning it around. It’s going to be the most prioritized draft need, and Pollack is going to have his say in the process. He will already have his hands full in dealing with Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher each entering year four, as well as hopefully bringing in an upgrade at center over Bodine. Both Christian Westerman and Alex Redmond showed promise to potentially challenge incumbent starter Trey Hopkins at right guard, but still need refinement and reps. Pollack can be the guy to get the most out of them.
As far as blocking scheme goes, I don’t think much changes. Every team in the league runs its share of zone, but Dallas has run teams over with it the last two years. That was of course mainly due to their personnel, but it’s safe to think Pollack is going to stick to what he knows. The Bengals ran zone the most with Joe Mixon in the backfield, and that will most likely be the case going forward. They’ll still pull Boling around on power; that shouldn’t go away with how proficient he is in doing so.
When it all comes down to it, this is a power move from a franchise that rarely does such things. Pollack’s resume of working with and developing such great talents is why he was hired so quickly. How well he transforms his newest group will determine if it was worth it.