Carman learning how to be a pro early in rookie season with Bengals

Second-round draft pick will have to earn playing time on offensive line

Jackson Carman joined the Cincinnati Bengals with perhaps even more expectations placed on him than the normal second-round draft pick just because of the team’s need for improvement on the offensive line and the fact the organization passed on the chance to address it with its No. 5 overall pick.

So, it might have come as a surprise for the former Fairfield High School and Clemson standout to come into training camp having to work his way back up the depth chart, especially after getting first-team reps late in offseason workouts.

Carman wasn’t worried about it. After opening last week with reps at the very back end of the depth chart, he got some chances with the first-team offense Monday, playing right guard, and was hopeful for more of those opportunities as the pads came on Tuesday.

“It’s similar to just coming into college as a freshman,” Carman said, “and seeing all these guys who’ve been through the trials and tribulations and already established and just having to prove yourself to the veterans and work your way up to a place where you feel like you deserve that.”

The guard spots are considered the biggest competitions in camp with Xavier Su’a-Filo and Quinton Spain returning and getting the first looks at right and left guard, respectively. Michael Jordan also is in the mix at left guard. Carman said he would feel comfortable at either guard position, even though he’s still learning after transitioning from left tackle in college.

Asked what Carman needs to do to earn a starting spot, coach Zac Taylor said he wants to see consistency and an ability to do his job in a professional manner.

“It’s being a pro on and off the field, taking care of your body, studying at night, being prepared with questions the next day,” Taylor said. “And that’s really the message to all those young players. In college, you knew your system. You were a three- or four-year starter. You knew it; it was easy to you. This isn’t going to be as easy to you. And so, you’ve got to spend a lot of time making sure you’re ready to go because I promise you the guys he’s competing with, they know their jobs, and they’re ready to do it and they don’t want to lose their job. So those will be good training camp battles at those guard spots, and that’ll be an interesting group to watch as we get going here.”

Carman said the coaches “laid it flat out” what is expected of him. He’s working now to make sure he prepares his body in a way that allows him to compete at a high level throughout a long season and that he doesn’t repeat mistakes.

One way he’s learning to take care of his body better is by doing more water recovery work to take pressure off his joints and to take cold tub and Epsom salt baths. He’s also learned more about “being a pro” from watching the “really good group of veteran guys” around him, because seeing how they handle themselves “has been really eye-opening.”

The whole experience has been that way, he said — from the months leading up to the draft until putting on the full pads for the first time since playing in the national championship game with Clemson last year.

“I wouldn’t say it’s been hard or easy,” said Carman, who underwent back surgery in late January after playing the final five games with a herniated disc. “I think it just is what it is. And I’ve just been having to just like rise to the occasion. ... I feel like my entire process in totality has been kind of crazy, just like going from having surgery and not being able to do my Pro Day at first and then just a whole bunch of different things. So it’s just basically expecting the unexpected, just going along with it and seeing where life takes me.”

Left tackle Jonah Williams said Carman has shown a good attitude about having to prove himself. He doesn’t need to worry if his place in the depth chart fluctuates early in camp.

“There’s a fair amount of competition in the room so the depth chart on the first day of camp is probably going to be different than the depth chart at the end, but it’s really up to whoever performs the best,” Williams said. “He seems to have a good mentality, and I’ve talked to him about that a little bit. But he doesn’t have an ego to the point he’s put out that he’s not starting right away. He’s here to work. Everyone is going to get better in camp.”

Carman said he hasn’t really had his “welcome to the NFL” moment yet in terms of just being put on his back in practice, but he knows it’s coming. He did enjoy a chance to feel the energy of a Bengals crowd for the first time Saturday when fans were able to watch practice at Paul Brown Stadium.

Being a “hometown kid,” Carman said he feels a little more pressure than he probably would as a second-round draft pick elsewhere, but it’s also a blessing to get to represent his local community.

“Definitely had that in my first practice in the stadium,” Carman said. “I had to appreciate the fact that wow I’m back home and I was born fifteen minutes away,. Taking it in, breathing it in. After that, it’s all work.”

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