After quarterback Joe Burrow’s 2020 season ended with knee surgery, the talk of the 2021 offseason has been the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line.
The team has made some changes including the addition of veteran tackle Riley Reiff and using a second-round pick on Jackson Carman, but was it enough?
Let’s take a look at the guard play in the team’s preseason opener to get an idea of how the Bengals line looks heading into the 2021 season.
We will start with man under the most pressure.
Jordan struggled last year and probably should have been benched prior to the team’s Week 11 matchup with the Washington Football Team. Yet on that fateful day, he took the field as the Bengals left guard and lost on the pass protection rep that ended Burrow’s rookie season.
Jordan’s road to redemption started in Tampa Bay.
Jordan does an excellent job as the right guard in this clip. The defender clears his hands, but Jordan keeps moving his feet and stays in front of him.
The defensive lineman then tries to make an inside move, but Jordan steps down and thwarts the attempted pass rush.
This was an excellent job by Jordan.
The Buccaneers’ defense comes hard off of the ball in this clip. In an attempt to stop the onslaught from his right guard position, Jordan strikes the defender, but he leans a bit too much.
Catching him off balance, the pass rusher pulls Jordan forward, but he doesn’t get anywhere on the rush. Jordan is able to recover and keep the pocket clean.
Jordan showed promise in his rookie campaign, but his performance took a nose dive in 2020. Reps like these give the impression that a new position coach may have put his career back on the right track.
Carman came into this game much lower on the depth chart than you would expect based on where the team selected him.
In this game, he demonstrated the reasons why he isn’t ready to compete with the first team, but he also showed the promise that made him a top-50 draft pick.
In contrast to the clips of Jordan in pass protection, here Carman struggles with a similar pass rush.
The defender starts with a pass rush move to Carman’s outside. Carman gets off balance and stops his feet. As a result, he is able to work a countermove back to the inside and get by the rookie.
Plays like this give me the feeling that Carman is still adjusting to the speed of the pro game. He seems to be thinking about what is going on in front of him, rather than reacting to it, and his technique issues likely stem from a similar place.
This clip is from last season at Clemson and shows Carman picking up a defensive line twist.
This requires very similar skills to what he lacked on the previous play and shows his potential to improve. Once he adjusts to the speed of the game and is confident in his understanding of the protection, we will see a very different Carman.
There are some issues here, but a pretty good rep for Carman pic.twitter.com/nowOhSPbia— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) August 15, 2021
In fact, later in the game, he showed improvement. Carman does an excellent job of seeing this twist and picking it up in this clip.
Carman had issues with is balance and leverage throughout the game. He also lost control of his gap late on multiple plays.
These are correctable issues that he continues to work on with offensive line coach Frank Pollack. Becoming more comfortable with the blocking schemes and improving his conditioning will pay huge dividends for Carman as the season goes on.
The rookie offensive lineman that has made the most progress this offseason is Smith, who was drafted two rounds after Carman was. Needless to say, he’s been a pleasant surprise for Pollack’s unit.
Revisiting the first clip, look at Smith at the left guard position.
When the defensive lineman makes an inside move, Smith lunges instead of moving his feet, but he recovers. He passes the block off to the center, but when it becomes clear that no one is coming into his outside gap, Smith helps out on the block.
Where Smith really stood out was in the run game.
This was a good block that was very nearly a great block. Watch as he strikes the defensive tackle’s inside shoulder and gets him turned, opening up a hole for the running back.
This block shows off his power and strength, but the defender eventually gets off the block and makes the tackle. Smith needs to keep his inside leg in front of the block and continue to apply pressure with his inside arm to prevent this from happening.
Here he shows his athleticism as he pulls around for the kick out block on the down play. This was an excellent block.
Like Carman, Smith needs to work on his balance and keeping his feet moving, but his issues in pass protection are less profound. Smith appears to be a little ahead of Carman on his learning curve, but it is a difference that Carman could quickly make up.
While we hoped that Carman would be making a strong push for a starting guard by now, there is reason for optimism at the guard position. These three young guards, together with Quinton Spain and Xavier Su’a-Filo, bring good depth and developmental potential to the position.