Bengals raising standards for offensive line

CINCINNATI -- Jonah Williams appreciated the vote of confidence the Cincinnati Bengals gave him by picking up his fifth-year option ahead of last week’s deadline to do so, but the 24-year-old left tackle plans to treat this year like he would any other and as though he still has something to earn.

The Bengals extended his contract through 2023 on April 29, four days before NFL teams needed to pick up fifth-year options on their 2019 first-rounders.

Williams missed his entire rookie season because of labrum surgery, then missed six games in 2020 because of injuries, so last season was his first full NFL season and it ended up longer than most anticipated for the Bengals making a Super Bowl run.

“It means a lot to me,” Williams said in a news conference Tuesday during the Bengals’ offseason workout program. “I appreciate having at least two more seasons here to work with my teammates, the new guys we brought in. It just allows me to focus on this year. … I want to treat every year like I’m going to play my absolute best regardless of my contract situation, but it does feel good to have that vote of confidence from the organization.”

The team’s 2019 No. 11 overall pick said he has confidence in his ability and knew the organization believes in him, so he wasn’t nervous or worried about whether his contract would be extended.

Williams is ready to get back to work with his new teammates on the offensive line, after earning a 77.1 grade from and allowing eight sacks last year on a team that allowed Joe Burrow to get sacked 70 times. Super Bowl champion left tackle Andrew Whitworth, by comparison, graded at an 86.1 and allowed just five sacks in 118 fewer snaps.

“I think I played well,” Williams said. “I think that I wasn’t causing a lot of problems from the left tackle spot, but I certainly know that I can improve and that’s my goal everyday this offseason, coming in now and working all the way through training camp into the season and just get a little bit better every day.”

Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said during draft weekend the team is trying to raise the standard for everyone on the offensive line because last year’s performance obviously wasn’t what the organization expected.

Williams is taking that message into this season knowing that even though his contract was extended, he could do more to help his quarterback.

“As an O-lineman you never want to see your quarterback getting hit, so to see him hit the number of times that he was is not acceptable to us,” Williams said. “We know that the offense - the type of playmakers that we have with Joe at quarterback and our receivers and running backs and everyone that we have - if we do our job well it’s going to allow everyone else to shine. That’s kind of what we do as linemen, so going into this year we want to see those numbers get down. The way we approach it we just want help our offense run more smoothly and that would involve giving Joe more time back there.”

The organization wasn’t forgiving of the overall performance of the offensive line, bringing in three new starters. Alex Cappa steps in at right guard, moving the carousel over to a now-open left guard competition, and Ted Karras takes over at center while La’el Collins is the new right tackle.

Williams said it’s been great getting to know the three newcomers these last couple of weeks, and he looks forward to seeing how their presence raises the competition at every position.

“I mean, our goal is to be the best line in the league and to lead the offense to being the best offense in the league,” Williams said. “That was our goal every year, but this year, we know what the expectations are. We were able to make it to the Super Bowl last year and weren’t able to finish. This time, we know we can make it to the Super Bowl. But we can do it a lot better and we can win when we get there. So I think that’s the ceiling and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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