In case you’re still trying to repress the memory of last season’s offensive line, I’ll remind you that it was an absolute train wreck. They were an easy target to blame most of the offense’s woes on, and the team addressed it in the offseason by doing a few things. The Bengals traded for Cordy Glenn from the Bills who is a great tackle when healthy. He will shore up the left side of a line that was a mess following the departure of Andrew Whitworth. The Bengals also drafted center Billy Price in the first round as an instant upgrade over Russell Bodine, who left via free agency.
A potentially even bigger change may be the culture shift. The Bengals parted ways with Paul Alexander, who was the teams offensive line coach for more than 20 years. They replaced him with Frank Pollack, who joins the team after a successful stint with the Cowboys. Pollack is largely responsible for the dominant offensive line in Dallas, and he will be tasked with tapping the potential of some of the young linemen the Bengals haven’t gotten enough out of yet. How does he plan on doing that? By putting them to work.
“It’s a lot different,” Trey Hopkins told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com of the way Pollack does things compared to Alexander. “There’s not much standing around. It’s, ‘Let’s get out there, get to work and when we’re in the classroom we’ll talk about it.’ It’s about the physical reps and your mind has to be right … He’ll make a point to the group and it’s on to the next rep.”
Hopkins is entering his fifth season with the Bengals after joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He got his first shot at starting last year at right guard, but with Pollack taking over he will be in competition with guys like Alex Redmond and Christian Westerman all over again. He’s also playing some center while Price recovers from his pectoral injury.
The tempo seems like a small thing, but it actually can change the entire offensive line’s mindset over time. The quicker you have to line up and go the easier it will be come game time to do that same thing. If you’re slow in practice it will probably translate to the field as well.
Hopkins isn’t the only one who is a fan of Pollack’s. Glenn says Pollack is “a throwback O-line coach and it’s been good.” It is great to hear one of the newest Bengals buying into what is going on. It will go a long way once training camp rolls around. Pollack isn’t just bringing a mindset or tempo to practice. He is also doing things these players have never seen during their time with Alexander, per Hobson:
There’s the trap-and-chute, where the linemen must stay low near their stance and power through without touching a tight tunnel. The arches are also designed to keep them low when they simulate the movement in trap plays. There are pop-up bags, sand bags, and small tire-like pod objects that the feet must be balanced on while they catch medicine balls.
The pods specifically are something that Hopkins says he hasn’t seen before. He gets the practicality of it helping the linemen sit in their stance. Each drill helps these linemen work on the little things that can pay off in a big way during a game. Being able to get the lower position on a defender during a running play could be the difference between a one-yard run and a 10-yard run.
It may seem like most of us are bashing Alexander. He showed his way could be successful, and he had some impressive seasons. But after more than 20 years, it was clear it is was time for a change. After all, Alexander failed to produce anything out of Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher and even Bodine that resembled something close to what the expectations were for those draft picks. It seems that the eldest linemen gets why the change was made, and he is on board as well.
“It’s only phase 2 and it’s one of the more intense phase 2 workouts I’ve been a part of,” Clint Boling said. “A lot different tempo, a lot different mindset. Clearly things weren’t good enough last year. We’ve had some changes that are evident in the coaching staff, in the locker room, and on the field. I think we’re making the changes necessary to succeed in this league. As we go along, we’ll keep learning and figuring things out.”