The Cincinnati Bengals have been working on building a solid offensive line to open up running lanes for running back Joe Mixon and, most importantly, give quarterback Joe Burrow a clean pocket so he can work his magic.
Before the 2022 season, they added center Ted Karras, right guard Alex Cappa, and right tackle La’el Collins, as well as left guard Cordell Volson in the draft. Then, just a couple of months ago, they added Orlando Brown Jr. to be the team’s new left tackle, moving Jonah Williams to right tackle.
There are a lot of new faces on the line, and one would think there could be an issue with cohesion as everyone scrambles to get used to a new position or a new player next to them. However, according to The Athletic’s Jay Morrison, that’s not the case.
In fact, the linemen are working on making sure they’re friends on and off the field.
“I don’t know that I buy into the idea that you have to be best friends to play well together, but it makes it a lot easier,” Cappa said in a recent interview. “It’s beneficial that you enjoy your time together for sure. It just makes it more fun to come to work. It makes it easier to communicate. I’m all about the communication. Whether it’s guard-tackle, center-guard, quarterback-running back, it all comes down to the communication. Even when you’re just hanging out, you’re also talking shop. I really enjoy that aspect of it.”
Karras echoed Cappa’s sentiment, saying that a big part of an offensive lineman’s game is building trust with each other, and that, when push comes to shove, it’s important to trust the players on either side of him.
“Building that trust started when we showed up, pre-Phase 1 (of OTA’s),” Karras said. “Just being here ready to go. Now that we’re on the field, know what to do, knowing how to do it, having each other’s backs, it translates off the field. Me and Orlando hung out a ton, and Cordell, too. There’s a lot of wide-encompassing factors that go into trust, and being friends is one of them.”
Frank Pollack, the Bengals' offensive line coach, agrees. He started coaching offensive linemen for Northern Arizona University in 2005 and then jumped to the NFL with the Houston Texans as the offensive line coach in 2007 and has filled that role for Houston, the Raiders, Cowboys, Jets, and the Bengals (twice).
After a long career spanning nearly 20 years, he knows that offensive linemen need to be close to be successful, especially late in the season when “s—t hits the fan.”
“It’s football,” Pollack said. “It’s not always clean and smooth. It can get a little rocky. And when it does, you can maybe push on a guy or jump on a guy a little bit where ‘Hey, we’ve got to get this cleaned up and fix this,’ and an intense message like that is better received when guys have that bond. It’s just a natural evolution or extension of their off-the-field relationship right into their on-the-field relationship.”
The 2023 season should give Bengals fans, and Burrow, the best offensive line in head coach Zac Taylor’s career in Cincinnati. Hopefully, the relationships between Brown Jr., Volson, Karras, Cappa, and Williams or Collins, or whoever takes the majority of the snaps at right tackle, can help push the unit to be one of the best lines in franchise history as well.