CINCINNATI — Alex Cappa was a part of Tampa Bay’s run to a Super Bowl title in 2020, but joined the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency this past offseason with expectations Joe Burrow would be leading the team into championship contention for years to come.
The idea of blocking for an up-and-coming leader like Burrow was enticing, and the Bengals were coming off a Super Bowl appearance of their own that seemed to be just the start of something special. Cappa missed the last three games of the Bucs’ championship run because of an ankle injury in the first round of the playoffs but had started every game to that point.
Cappa, now enjoying a Pro Bowl-caliber first season as Cincinnati’s starting right guard, is preparing for his return to Tampa Bay this weekend as the Bengals play the Bucs on Sunday afternoon. In reflecting on his time with his first NFL team, Cappa said he sees some similarities in this year’s Bengals team and the one he was a part of with Tampa in 2020-21.
“The confidence is the biggest one,” Cappa said when asked of the similarities. “We definitely have that ... and that comes to the preparation. We know we are prepared and ready to play. We are definitely have a confident group that has a lot of fun. Those are good things for us.”
That confidence is something he carries with him now, that maybe was lacking early in his career.
Cappa was a third-round draft pick out of Humbolt State in 2018 and came into the league as a backup offensive tackle, appearing in six games as a rookie. Coming from a Division II school – his only college offer in high school – it was a tough transition into the league, but by the next season, he had earned the starting right guard job. Cappa has started all but three possible regular-season games since then, not missing one since 2020.
The Bengals saw Cappa as what offensive line coach Frank Pollack likes to call “a glass-eater,” and he’s been exactly as they expected. He’s allowed just three sacks and 17 pressures – and only center Ted Karras has been better on Cincinnati’s line.
“Really experience is the biggest thing,” Cappa said. “You look at (left guard) Cordell (Volson) and everything he’s doing, I definitely could not have done that as a rookie. Experience has been the biggest thing for me. Having gone out there for a good amount now, you see things better and feel things better. Experience has definitely been the biggest thing.”
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said that experience across the whole line, outside of Volson, has been helpful, especially with four new starters this season. The Bengals liked that Cappa had played at a high level on teams that were successful before, and that has translated well into his game for Cincinnati.
Cappa and the two other interior linemen, Karras and Volson, will have their work cut out for them Sunday against the Bucs, who are known for their strength down the middle defensively. Cappa will likely match up with Akiem Hicks, who struggled last week against the 49ers but had been seeming to find his form since a return from injury in Week 9.
“You have guys inside who have their work cut out for them,” Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. “In the run game, they’re physical. In the pass game, protection is a challenge every week in the NFL, but defenses like that, the middle of the pocket is a challenge. The run game is a challenge moving guys off the ball … because they’re fast and physical and they find their way to the ball pretty quickly. Everyone has something they’re good at that you got to account for. Their interior players and linebackers are really a strength for them.”
Cappa said he looks forward to his return to Tampa, but he’s still happy with his decision to join the Bengals, who are trying to win a sixth straight game Sunday.
“Really playing with everybody over there was a lot of fun,” Cappa said, reflecting on his time in Tampa. “A lot of great teammates over there, learned a lot about the game and about preparation. It was a lot to learn from the guys over there. It was fun.”
Now, Cappa tries to pass on what knowledge he can share with Volson and other young guys in the offensive line room, but he’s also learning from guys like Karras and La’el Collins.
The Bengals started off slowly this season on offense, especially as the line was taking some time to jell and settle into their roles with a lot of new guys playing together for the first time. Cappa said the consistency of having the same five starters playing every game has helped, and the offensive line’s success over the last five games is reflective of the expectations those guys brought upon joining the Bengals.
“It’s been good,” Cappa said. “It takes a lot of time to build trust and get comfortable playing with people. I feel like we definitely are heading in the right direction there. When you have whole new guys playing together, you just have to learn together and how you fit runs. It’s about timing when you work together. And I feel like we’re heading in the right direction.”
Bengals at Buccaneers, 4:25 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7
About the Author