CINCINNATI -- When he practiced during the preseason, Mike Pollak's role was that of utility offensive lineman.
He was the Cincinnati Bengals' interior rover. He got more experience lining up at the various interior line positions than any other player. Whenever one of the starters at left guard, center or right guard went down, he had to know all three positions so that he could come right in and play them with the exact same level of execution.
Of the three positions, right guard was the one Pollak saw the least amount of time at during the preseason. But that doesn't mean he didn't know how to play it.
When Pollak got thrown into last Sunday's game against the Falcons at Kevin Zeitler's right guard position, it took a little time to get reacclimated to the spot. He filled in there extensively once before. It appears he may be doing more of that in the next few weeks as Zeitler will probably be injured for a long time.
"It took me about a series to kind of get refocused back there," Pollak said. "Last year when I had to fill in for Kevin toward the end of the season, I got a lot of reps over there."
The Bengals haven't announced anything official on Zeitler's status moving forward just yet, but there's a chance coach Marvin Lewis addresses it during his news conference Wednesday afternoon. Dave Lapham, the color analyst on the Bengals' radio team and a former Cincinnati offensive lineman, said during a radio show Monday night that he had been told Zeitler had a calf strain and was going to be out a month.
If Zeitler is out for four weeks, he'll miss games against the Titans, Patriots and Panthers. That's three games for Pollak to take over and prove that he can build the same wall of protection quarterback Andy Dalton has provided.
"As a backup, you've got to know that when your number's called you've got to perform," Zeitler said.
Zeitler suffered the injury in the second quarter of a game that saw five Bengals end up leaving due to serious injuries. Zeitler's happened at the end of a goal-line run when he pushed a pair of defenders as running back Giovani Bernard tripped in for a 4-yard touchdown run. With his left arm, the guard turned the defensive tackle across from him and then pushed back another lineman who was chasing Bernard with his right arm. The block opened a wide hole for Bernard to score, but came with a price.
Zeitler tried to hobble off the field, but went down in pain almost instantly before told to gingerly head through the nearby tunnel and into the locker room. He told me he felt his leg simply give out when the apparent strain occurred.
One could make a case that Zeitler was playing at an early Pro Bowl level. He had a 2.1 overall grade from Pro Football Focus through two games and hadn't allowed any pressures.
Pollak didn't allow any himself when he took over. He'll have to keep that going, especially considering Dalton is one of two quarterbacks in the league who still hasn't been sacked.
"It's one of our key emphasis each week, to keep the quarterback clean," Pollak said. "Two weeks in a row. We've got to keep it going. It's not going to be perfect throughout the season, but it's definitely good confidence."