Leading up to the start of training camp for the Cincinnati Bengals on July 29, we’re breaking down each position group.
Today’s look is at the offensive line, a group that appears largely to be set heading into training camp.
After keeping nine offensive linemen in 2013 and 2014, the Bengals kept eight last year thanks to the versatility many of the players possess. Andrew Whitworth, Clint Boling, Russell Bodine, Kevin Zeitler, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher are locks to the make the roster, and fifth-round pick Christian Westerman is a pretty good certainty.
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That leaves a group of eight to battle for what is likely to be one final spot.
Here are five things to know about the offensive line:
It will be interesting to see whether Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who enters the final year of his contract, earns another extension. The Bengals signed Whitworth to a one-year extension in September last year, and given that he’s playing arguably the best football of his 11-year career at age 34, another one would not be out of the question.
The Bengals drafted tackles in the first two rounds in 2015 with an eye toward the future, but second-rounder Jake Fisher has not developed nearly as quickly as first-rounder Cedric Ogbuehi, and keeping Whitworth around for at least another year would seem to be in the best interest of both sides.
Obguehi steps in
The Bengals surprised a lot of people by using their 2015 first-round pick on a tackle recovering from an ACL injury, but Cedric Ogbuehi has been everything the coaches expected him to be.
With Andre Smith signing as a free agent with Minnesota, Ogbuehi is expected to be the starting right tackle when the season begins. Ogbuehi received medical clearance to practice in Week 9, and he was added to the roster in Week 12, immediately moving ahead of veteran Eric Winston on the depth chart to see action in jumbo sets.
Ogbuehi ultimately projects as a left tackle, which means his development in camp and the early part of the season could have a direct effect on whether Andrew Whitworth gets an extension.
The advanced analytics site ProFootballFocus.com recently ranked all 32 of the league's offensive lines, and the Bengals made an impressive showing in fourth place.
PFF’s Nathan Jahnke wrote: “The Bengals’ offensive line remains largely unchanged outside of losing Andre Smith. In each of the last nine years, Andrew Whitworth has graded above-average in both run-blocking and pass-blocking. Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler have been mainstays at guard for Cincinnati, and have also provided consistent production. What holds the Bengals out of the top-three is the play of Russell Bodine, who allowed 30 pressures last season, fifth-most among centers. There will be competition at RT, with either an inexperienced player or Eric Winston likely taking the field come Week 1.”
While not surprising, it’s interesting that the Bengals official roster on the team website lists 10-year veteran Eric Winston as a guard instead of a tackle, the position he has primarily played since he entered the NFL as a third-round pick of the Houston Texans in 2006.
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Winston’s ability to move inside and play guard gives him his best chance to make the 53-man roster as a backup after the Bengals used their first two picks in 2015 on tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher.
Even though left guard Clint Boling and right guard Kevin Zeitler started all 16 games last year, keeping Winston around makes sense not just for the versatile depth he provides, but also for his leadership and the respect he commands as president of the NFL Players Association.
Minutes after the Bengals drafted Christian Westerman in the fifth round this year, four of the first six questions head coach Marvin Lewis and offensive line coach Paul Alexander fielded had to do with whether Westerman could play center.
That’s because center Russell Bodine has been considered by many to be the weak link of the offensive line since the Bengals installed him as the starter the day they drafted him in the fourth round in 2014. But Alexander – who likened the line of questioning on draft day a “witch hunt” – insisted he is firmly behind Bodine and thinks there is still a lot of upside for a 24-year-old who was immediately thrown into the fire as a starter.
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