Bengals counting on Williams to become stalwart at left tackle

Cincinnati Bengals' Jonah Williams (73) during an NFL football camp practice in Cincinnati, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Cincinnati Bengals' Jonah Williams (73) during an NFL football camp practice in Cincinnati, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

After the Cincinnati Bengals signed veteran offensive lineman Riley Reiff in free agency, coach Zac Taylor was quick to declare plans for Jonah Williams to remain the starting left tackle.

This year will be an important one for Williams, the team’s first-round pick in 2019 who has yet to play a full season. Williams missed his entire rookie season with a shoulder injury, then finished 2020 on injured reserve with a right knee injury that did not require surgery but caused him to miss the last four games.

Knowing he still had the coaches’ faith was big for Williams as he entered the offseason workout program with much to prove.

“That means a lot to me, I really appreciate that from coach,” Williams said Tuesday after the team’s fourth practice in Organized Team Activities. “I take that very seriously and I want to prove them right and prove the team right and do what it takes to be a great left tackle.”

Williams said he wasn’t aware the Bengals were pursuing Reiff but was excited when the former Vikings left tackle signed. Williams had worked out some with one of Reiff’s former Minnesota teammates, right tackle Brian O’Neill, and O’Neill only had good things to say about him.

Now, Reiff will be playing right tackle, replacing Bobby Hart.

“Just in the past week of working with him, I’ve kind of seen everything everyone was saying,” Williams said. “He’s a guy who shows up. He works hard and he’s a great player. I’m excited about adding him to the team and the O-line room.”

Reiff could have been a replacement for Williams, especially with the fifth pick in the draft available to add another tackle. The Bengals went with wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase in the first round, then drafted Fairfield product Jackson Carman in the second round with plans to move the former Clemson left tackle to guard.

Taylor said he saw enough good things in Williams’ first season on the field last year to believe he can continue to develop into an elite NFL left tackle.

“He had some really good tape from last season,” Taylor said. “Obviously he’s had his ups and downs from an injury standpoint that have prevented from really taking off. When you just go back and after the season you watch it as a whole all of his snaps he put some really good stuff on tape. He doesn’t even have a full season of 16 games under his belt so I think we’re going to continue to see steady improvement working under Frank (Pollack), and he’s a really smart player and I think he can really take his game to the next level and I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Williams has connected well with new offensive line coach Frank Pollack, who brings a coaching style Williams is excited about while emphasizing repetition to perfect technique.

After drilling in reps repeatedly in OTAs and likely through training camp, Williams believes that will translate into better execution on the field.

“He saw that I have athletic traits, good feet and hands and that type of thing,” Williams said of Pollack. “He realized and I also realized that there’s so much fine tuning that I can do and so much changing up what I do from play to play and having like what he said, ‘a tool box’ of sets, hands, any sort of combination of things that I can use on the field. It’s taking my natural abilities and giving them names and being able to utilize them individually.”

Despite his first season on the field being limited to 10 games (he also missed two midseason because of a neck injury), Williams said he learned last year what it takes to go against some of the best players in the league. Now, he feels better prepared for that.

He’s a full participant in OTAs and says he feels good physically, after viewing this offseason as an opportunity to get his body “stronger than ever” with the goal of having a healthy 2021. He spent the first couple of weeks after the season rehabbing from the MCL injury, but it wasn’t long before he was back to full strength.

“From then on, it’s been ramping up, getting more and more intense,” Williams said. “I’m a big fan of the offseason training and I like making sure I’m putting my body in the best position to succeed when the season comes around. So, I’ve been working with the same trainer and stepping it up a little bit, pushing it a little bit more.”

“I feel good about where my body is at and still have, I think, nine weeks or so to go before training camp,” he added. “I just look at it as an opportunity to keep building my body and getting it as ready for the season as possible.”