Up for grabs: Bengals ‘evaluating everybody’ in search for starter at left guard

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack said he saw some good and bad out of both players competing for the left guard spot in Friday’s preseason opener, and the job is very much still up for grabs.

Rookie Cordell Volson might be getting more looks with the first-team offense and a third name – backup center Trey Hill – has entered the mix after second-year player Jackson Carman was unable to separate himself in the competition.

Carman returned to practice Monday after getting dinged up a bit Friday, but Volson lined up with the regular starters while Hill got some second-string reps before moving back to center. Pollack told reporters after practice part of that plan was because Carman got banged up a bit on the elbow Friday but the Bengals also want to see Volson with that first group. Up until this week, Carman had taken most of the first-team snaps at left guard.

“We’re just evaluating everybody, still seeing who’s the guy who’s going to take that job,” Pollack said.

Carman, a second-round draft pick last year, had a holding penalty and a couple other moments Friday where he let the defender push him back into his own quarterback’s space, including once just before a sack on Brandon Allen.

Volson’s most memorable moments Friday were more positive. He had the lead block on Jacques Patrick’s 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

“Like most guys in the game, up and down,” Pollack said. “Some good things and some typical things for a first game live bullets. Kind of like a few weeks ago when we had our first day of pads. Some guys kind of abandoned some technique and fundamentals. It was our first time to go live, full speed all the way to finish, which is typical first game stuff. Some good things and some things we need to keep harping on.”

Specific to Volson’s performance, Pollack added he looked like a “rookie in his first game,” needing to be more of a technician and to play faster with his hands and feet, but there is no doubt he plays hard.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said he sees progress in some areas from both Carman and Volson, but they need someone to grab ahold of the job.

“I think he does a good job anchoring in pass protection,” Taylor said of Volson. “When he locks up on somebody, he’s a strong guy, he’s got great grip and they have a tough time getting around him. For any young lineman it’s assessing different looks and targeting the run game and not wasting any movements and be where you’re supposed to be to help your teammates and so those are the things that I see him continuing to make progress in. I think Jackson’s made a lot of progress there as well. It’s a good competition, both guys have shown really well and we’re just looking for the overall consistency for someone to grab ahold of that job and move on with it.”

The offensive line as a whole struggled, especially in the first half, during which former Bengals left guard Quinton Spain seemed to be trolling the team with a photo of the Cincinnati skyline he posted on Twitter as if to say, “I’m still here and available.”

Spain remains a free agent.

Pollack isn’t worried about one bad outing, but like Taylor has said, he does need to start seeing more consistency. Asked if he puts a lot of stock into preseason games, Pollack said “it depends.”

“I think last year we had zero sacks in the preseason so you tell me,” he said. “I’ve been 0-4 in the preseason as a player in this league and gone on to go to Super Bowls and whatnot. You’re evaluating individuals, not collectively. It’s a whole combination of all of the above. Yeah, you want to win. You want to have success as a group and all that good stuff but preseason is unique. Leave it at that.”

None of the established starters on the offensive line played Friday, but the depth is a concern early in the preseason. Hill took a lot of the reps at center, and with Ben Brown going on injured reserve Monday, that leaves just Hill and Lamont Gaillard, a sixth-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2019, as options behind starter Ted Karras.

Pollack said he likes Hill’s physical strike and movement in the run game.

“I thought he’s doing a lot of good things,” Pollack said. “He’s another guy that’s competing for that left guard spot. He’s been valuable for us at center. He’s starting to get some more guard reps. He’s done a nice job. He’s grown a lot as a player. He’s right there in the mix with everyone else at that left guard spot.”


Bengals at Giants, 7 p.m., NFL Network, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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