Bruce Kozerski is no stranger to winning the battle of the trenches.
The former center played on the Bengals offensive line for twelve seasons from 1984-1995. Kozerski lined up with franchise greats like Anthony Muñoz and Max Montoya.
The trio dominated the trenches with Joe Walter and Bruce Reimers in the late 1980s.
During the Bengals' 1988 AFC Championship season, they set the tone by opening holes for star running backs Ickey Woods and James Brooks. They also gave MVP Boomer Esiason plenty of time to throw in the pocket.
The Bengals offense finished first overall in the 1988 season with 3,347 yards in the air (209.2 per game) and 2,710 yards on the ground (169.4 per game).
“If you look at any great team that has a quarterback that’s lasted any period of time that has some substantial accomplishments, start with the guys in the trenches,” Kozerski said in an exclusive interview with AllBengals. “They keep him clean and give him the opportunity.”
Kozerski knows the Bengals have something special under center with Joe Burrow. He also knows they have to build around Burrow to give him an opportunity to succeed.
“Joe (Burrow) may be the most impressive rookie to ever play for the Bengals,” Kozerski said. “We’ve [Bengals] had some great ones. It’s not just the fact that he throws the ball where it’s supposed to be thrown, but the leadership on the field. He was an impact player from the moment he stepped on the field. Maybe the single greatest choice they’ve had.”
The Bengals took the first step in keeping Burrow upright by hiring offensive line coach Frank Pollack in January. Bringing him back into the fold should bode well for their potential success in the trenches.
Pollack reminds Kozerski of legendary Bengals offensive line coach Jim McNally. McNally taught Kozerski and his fellow linemen how to be pros and make a quarterback feel comfortable in the pocket. He believes Pollack will have the same impact on this current group of Bengals linemen.
The 59-year-old was on the 1987 Bengals team that finished 4-11. They went from worst to first in 1988 with proper coaching and roster adjustments. He feels this team can turn things around if they put the right pieces around Burrow.
Kozerski is high on Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater but knows adding a speed receiver to spread the field would complete the package for Burrow.
"My money's on one of those two tackles. In the second round, the best receiver available," Kozerski said. "If they choose to go receiver first, those two guys will be gone [Slater and Sewell], then they still need to take an offensive linemen in the second round. A big one. A good one. They can't miss."
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Cincinnati should get a chance to take Sewell later this month, assuming he’s on the board when the Bengals are on the clock with the fifth pick. They could also take LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase at No. 5.
Kozerski is so in tune with the Bengals because never left Cincinnati after his playing days. He’s taught at Holy Cross High School in Northern Kentucky for the last 23 years. He's also coached their football team since their inaugural season in 1998.
He has witnessed some of the highest and lowest moments of Bengals history both as a player and retiree. He stays up-to-date with the team and keeps in touch with many of the players and coaches he played with, some of whom are the best players in the franchise’s history.
He’s hoping Bengals legends like Ken Anderson, Ken Riley, and others find their way to Canton someday.
“It’s crazy. We’ve [Bengals] had some of the greatest players in the history of the NFL,” Kozerski said. “If we can do that in Cincinnati that [a Ring of Honor] might be a trigger. That [Ring of Honor] might be saying that those guys do belong in the Hall of Fame.”
A Bengals Ring of Honor would give the players who deserve to be considered for the Hall of Fame an extra push in recognition than what they are getting now as well as pave the way for present-day players.
The talent of Bengals history is plentiful, and the future in Cincinnati is bright if the team can build around Burrow. The Bengals need to give their quarterback opportunities to lead this team to be one of the next franchise greats just like Kozerski, Muñoz and the rest of the Bengals did for Esiason and Anderson more than three decades ago.
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