CINCINNATI – When Frank Pollack speaks about that Cincinnati BengalsThe top priority this off-season is like hearing an angry receptionist occupy a busy phone line.
The phrase for the new offensive line coach from Bengals is “Line 1”, a bit of a throwback that he repeated many times in his first press conference. And that line is so loud it might as well shout through a megaphone.
In this off-season, an offensive line is built that can protect the quarterback Joe Burrow is the most pressing priority. That’s why Cincinnati brought Pollack back after an initial coaching stint that ended in 2018.
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And when it comes to keeping the franchise quarterback going in 2021, everyone from the front office needs to go to Burrow himself to make sure the unit improves.
“We have a good young quarterback,” said Pollack on January 11, shortly after he was hired. “We have to do everything we can to protect him. This is line 1.”
Burrow’s rookie year illustrated the worst-case scenario where protection is insufficient.
On November 22, months of twitching ended as he watched Burrow in the pocket as he was pinched at the end of a pass by two Washington defense lawyers. Burrow tore the ACL and MCL ligaments in his left knee and also sustained damage to the PCL and meniscus, sources told ESPN. The promising year for 2020’s top draft pick was officially over.
At the end of the season, the Bengals’ problems with pass protection could not be overlooked.
Cincinnati ranked 29th in the Pass Block Win Rate, an ESPN metric supported by NFL Next Gen Stats. It was a stark contrast to their run block win rate, which came in 11th.
Joe Burrow has been under pressure for much of his rookie season with the Bengals. Keith Srakocic / AP Photo
Some of the problems were due to injuries over the course of the season, including losing the left opening game Jonah Williams to a knee injury. And Burrow may also be to blame for some of the hits he scored in a year of on-the-job training during a pandemic.
Take the 27-3 defeat of the Bengals Baltimore Ravens for example, week 5. Burrow was released seven times and Burrow finished 183 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. After the game, Burrow recognized the need to strike a balance between being a playmaker and holding onto the ball for too long.
“There are always games to play and I consider myself a playmaker and I didn’t play any today that got us into the field,” said Burrow. “Sometimes I held the ball a little too long.”
But most of the problems had little to do with burrow. Even without the injuries, Cincinnati had limited stability with its line of scrimmage.
Left guard after the injury Michael Jordan made another start but was eliminated from the rotation. Guard Alex Redmondwho was flirting with a stint on the right was put in favor of Quinton Spain, a mid-season signer.
Problems related to former offensive coach Jim Turner, who was not hired after two seasons, included the inability to set up a consistent five-man unit.
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Cincinnati quickly pulled the plug as he worked in the seventh round Hakeem Adeniji An attack that could damage a novice’s confidence in the long run. Billy Price played three different positions in either training or games before returning as a backup center where 2018 was slated to be the first choice.
Also out of season Xavier Su’a-Filo After returning from a foot injury, he was no longer seated on the bench, but played the left guard after starting the first week with the right guard.
While no player directly criticized Turner or the constant shuffling, any cohesiveness was usually cited as a key point in improving unity on points throughout the season.
“It’s unfortunate and it’s nowhere near the best situation,” Center said Trey Hopkins said on December 10th. “Everyone knows that. They’d rather the boys sit in one place and play that place and feel comfortable, but that’s not how it is played for us.”
Ultimately, Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor had no choice but to part with Turner, whom he had known at multiple stations and with whom he worked.
“I thought (the offensive line) had some really good moments and I think Jim is a really good football coach,” Taylor said of Turner. “If your record is what your record is, nothing has ever been good enough.”
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Turner’s handicrafts also showed what the Bengals could do with No. 5 overall NFL draft. Cincinnati evaluated its options behind the right tackle Bobby HartSimilar to the quarterback in 2019 before the Burrow draft.
The Bengals will have a few fascinating options to tackle. Cincinnati could take Oregons According to Sewell, who compares ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. to Bengal legend Anthony Muñoz in his last bill draft. Or the Bengals could grab Northwestern’s Rashawn Slaterwhich is seen as another strong prospect.
Regardless of what the Bengals do on the draft or in the free agency, Line 1 will always flash until Cincinnati can prove it can protect Burrow, who is tasked with getting the franchise to its first playoff spot since 2015 to lead.
When Pollack met with Taylor about the job, it came up in their conversation. And he knows that regardless of the team there is nothing more important than protecting the man behind the middle.
“You have to protect your quarterback,” said Pollack. “This is what everyone is trying to get better and better and strive for.”