Bengals offensive line coach believes solution to struggles can be found on current roster

Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Burrow (9) is tackled by Philadelphia Eagles' Derek Barnett (96) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Burrow (9) is tackled by Philadelphia Eagles' Derek Barnett (96) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Cincinnati Bengals offensive line coach Jim Turner knows his position group has to be better. He won’t gloss over the fact that Joe Burrow has been hit more than any other quarterback in the league, and the running game is one of the worst.

However, he still feels like the answer to the problem is within the current locker room.

Turner cites inexperience and a lack of chemistry as the main reasons for the offensive line struggles, and he believes the young players stepping into bigger roles this season are getting better with time. The Bengals (0-2-1) host the Jaguars (1-2) on Sunday in a game that feels like a chance to potentially show that in the box score, as Jacksonville brings a young defensive line that accounts for only three sacks (only the Panthers have fewer).

“We have to be better,” Turner said. “We gotta protect Joe better. We gotta run the ball better.”

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Cincinnati’s biggest issue up front right now is figuring out the right guard spot since Xavier Su’a-Filo went down with an ankle injury in the opener Sept. 13. The Bengals moved backup right tackle Fred Johnson in to replace him but midway through his second start, Cincinnati pulled him for Billy Price.

Price wasn’t much better, and Bengals coach Zac Taylor said earlier this week the position would continue to be evaluated and “every option” would be considered.

“If you go to our practices, you’ll see that I’m revolving those guys all the time for this reason because all of a sudden, you play in your first game and Xavier Su’a-Filo is hurt and he’s out,” Turner said. “So what do you do? You’ve got to find the next best thing to fit in there. And you’ve got to find a rhythm. A lot of guys need experience in this offense. We couldn’t ask for anymore from our quarterback than we’re getting, for a young player the way he is, as far as handling the offense. It has nothing to do with him. We’ve just got to be better up front, we’ve got to be coordinated as offense running the football better and we need to throw the ball less ... and there won’t be so much pressure on our tackles to survive in one-on-one blocks.”

If Johnson and Price aren’t the solution and the answer is in the building, rookie Hakeem Adenji could be an option. The team also signed guard Keaton Sutherland to the roster off the practice squad this week, and Turner was working Thursday one-on-one with practice squad guard Alex Redmond, who has started games at right guard in the past.

Taylor on Friday indicated Redmond might be the choice, as teams are allowed to add two extra players to the roster ahead of gameday.

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“If they’re in this building right now, we think they’re the answer,” Turner said. “I think that, like I said, like I said about Fred, Fred Johnson could be a heck of a pro player. The decision is his. There’s one. And then if you look at some of the other guys. Billy’s been a solid back-up for us right now. And then you have Hakeem Adeniji. … He’s there mentally. He wants to do it. So I’m very comfortable with him and where he’s headed right now.”

Even with a healthy Su’a-Filo, the chemistry on the line hasn’t had time to develop with new players stepping in and no offseason workout program together. Su’a-Filo came from Dallas through free agency this offseason, and 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams is in his first season at left tackle after missing his rookie campaign last year.

Left guard Michael Jordan also is just a second-year player and only played in half the games last season.

Turner gave a full analysis of the starting linemen, noting that Williams is young but “gonna be a hell of a player,” and that Jordan is “a work in progress” who will be a “great player.” Trey Hopkins has been the most consistent at center. Johnson has potential but “the light needs to come on for him,” especially as he’s learning guard now instead of tackle.

Perhaps the most surprising assessment to the fans would be Turner’s description of right tackle Bobby Hart as “very steady.” Asked why he believes in Hart, Turner went on the defensive, noting there are timing issues with the quarterback.

“It’s not always what meets the eye, and I think that, out of all my players, Bobby Hart is the most underappreciated player and the most picked-on player by everybody from the media to whoever wants to talk football,” Turner said. “It’s like every pressure we’ve ever had gets blamed on that kid. To me, nobody has put more time or effort into our offense, like in preparation for the season and understanding his weaknesses and in training and getting himself ready to play for the season. You watch him play, right? He’s played three solid games.”

“I think Bobby’s playing the best football I’ve seen him play in his career right now. I think mentally, he’s a great place right now. ... So, I’m very comfortable with the way he’s playing. I am not worried about Bobby Hart.”

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