Sports Today: 2 football trench trends having huge effect on Bengals

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Sports Today: 2 football trench trends having huge effect on Bengals

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Nick Graham
Cincinnati Bengals defensive ends Carlos Dunlap (96) and Michael Johnson (90) celebrate a sack during their first pre-season game against the Minnesota Vikings Friday, Aug. 12 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. The Vikings won 17-16. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The Cincinnati Bengals don’t play this week, but that hasn’t stopped the offensive line from being a point of discussion. 

And with good cause. 

This was the biggest area of concern entering the season, and through five weeks it remains so now that Andy Dalton has remembered how to play quarterback. 

Football Outsiders ranks the Bengals 29th in adjusted line yards (a metric that attempts to figure out how well the line blocked a play independent of what the running back did) and 26th in pass protection. 

Since someone decided last spring the team would commit to seeing if Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher are the guys at tackle, this was always a possibility. 

At this point, the roster is what it is, but the coaches are doing what they can to maximize it by giving veteran Andre Smith some time on each side and spelling the youngsters from time to time. 

Will that work long term? 

Guess we’ll have to wait and see. 

They’re all former high draft picks, so talent shouldn’t be a problem. 

I like the creativity given the need to get those guys experience without exposing them to quite a full game’s worth of not getting people blocked. 

(Although Joe Thomas might argue that’s one of the sad truths of being an offensive lineman, God’s favorite position besides fullback.) 

You’ve got to play football to get better at it, especially offensive line where muscle memory is most important and hardest to develop without involving the physical part of the game. (That goes for getting used to who you’re playing with and what the guy across from you might do.) 

Live reps are at a premium thanks to the current CBA disaster, so lots of teams are scrambling to find and develop qualified blockers. 

That the Bengals are struggling to rebuild their offensive line on the fly while successfully restocking their pass rush practically overnight is no coincidence. 

All of football is moving in that direction as the college game gets less physical and teams at the pro and amateur levels have figured out the importance of rushing the passer. 

Playing offensive line and pass defense have probably never been harder, at least since pass blocking rules were liberalized in the late ‘70s, so having a premium pass rush is a way to exploit one market inefficiency and cover for another. 

Are there more quality pass rushers out there than ever before, too? 

I’d venture to guess that answer is yes. 

They come in all shapes and sizes now as coaches at multiple levels have figured out a variety of body types can be taught the tricks of the trade and challenge offensive linemen in different ways. 

There’s only one Von Miller, but there are a lot of effective Von Miller impersonators. Ditto Julius Peppers. 

And this has a ripple effect as former premier edge rushers like Michael Johnson find a niche by moving inside, where their quickness is still too much for guards and centers. 

Meanwhile, offensive linemen enter the league more raw than they used to be and are allowed fewer opportunities to get better... 

Targeting remains a hot topic this week at Ohio State, where Urban Meyer says he was told by the Big Ten the replay official screwed up by not overturning Denzel Ward’s ridiculous ejection Saturday. 

Greg Schiano, a 30-year coaching veteran of both the college and pro levels, avoided ripping the rule but explained very well what he tells his players and his sons about playing defense within the current rules structure. 

Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano explained his view on targeting in CFB after two of his players were ejected last weekend

“See what you hit” has always been sound advice, though the rule makers and enforcers forgot that for too long. 

The targeting rule is an overcorrection, but I agree some of those vicious kill shots that used to be commonplace needed to be legislated out of the game and it is fine without them… 

How good the Dayton Flyers are in Anthony Grant’s first season as head coach at his alma mater remains to be seen, but it looks like he won’t be letting the little things hold them back. 

“He’s very particular with the details and trying to get us to understand those are important and those are the difference between winning games and losing,” UD point guard John Crosby told us Monday. “I’ve learned a lot about the small things.” 

Defense apparently has been a big emphasis early, which comes as no surprise. 

It was a strength both of previous Grant teams and the recent editions of the Flyers, so it stands to reason that’s where UD can become good the quickest. 

The overall length of this squad also makes it easy to envision it as being one that is hard to score on if everyone is connected and doing their job. 

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