Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor already is proving he’s not afraid to shake things up and give opportunities to new players.
Taylor announced during his weekly press conference Sunday that rookie Michael Jordan will be the starting left guard Week 1 at Seattle and Trey Hopkins has overtaken 2018 first-round draft pick Billy Price for the starting job at center.
Additionally, undrafted rookie receiver Damion Willis has made the team and will start in A.J. Green’s place to open the season, while Green is out with an ankle injury. Willis and Jordan both said they were expecting to still have to prove something Thursday in the preseason finale against the Colts, but both will be sitting as the Week 1 starters aren’t expected to play.
“It feels amazing,” said Jordan, who played guard and center at Ohio State prior to becoming a fourth-round draft pick for the Bengals this year. “I just want to give thanks to God for allowing me to be where I’m at today. … I was surprised because I still felt like I needed to prove myself in the fourth preseason game, but I’m glad coach Taylor chose me to start at left guard and I want to do my best for this team.”
The left guard position has been in the spotlight since Clint Boling retired in mid-July, and really even before that as the Bengals were trying Cordy Glenn at guard expecting first-round draft pick Jonah Williams to play left tackle. Williams injured his shoulder in the final week of OTAs and is expected to miss the season, so the Bengals began training camp with veteran John Jerry and Christian Westerman switching off at left guard.
Jordan started getting reps with the first-teamers more recently, though, and Hopkins was even battling there at times once Price came back from a foot injury that sidelined him for the start of training camp. Westerman left the team briefly last week and basically took himself out of the competition, but the center job gained more attention as Hopkins and Price kept rotating roles and positions. Price even played some right guard Thursday against the Giants.
Hopkins said he wasn’t necessarily surprised he won the job but did do a little celebrating Friday after finding out.
“It’s a huge compliment, and I’m very happy to have the trust of my coaches and teammates to be able to step out there as a center, to be kind of the leader of the line, but there are so many guys,” Hopkins said. “Billy is not out of the picture here. He’s another great guy. Like I said, that room is full of people that play multiple positions and play them very well. I think we’ll get to see that a lot more from now on.”
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Taylor said the decision to go with Hopkins over Price came down to Hopkins just earning the position with his experience there in the past and while Price was out with the injury.
“That’s what happens sometimes when you miss time with injury,” Taylor said. “It’s no one’s fault but someone comes in and steps their game up, they earn that spot. They get more opportunities, and there is nothing anyone could have done to control that other than Trey Hopkins. He took advantage of it. But again, we are in great shape with Billy because we feel he can step in at a moments notice and he’s a starter for us, really.”
Price said he was disappointed upon hearing the news he would not be starting the opener, but he will be motivated to keep working to earn playing time. He hasn’t played guard since 2016 but would be happy to get time there if not at center.
“It’s a day you never thought would happen that happened, and it’s something I have to get better and do whatever it takes to help this team,” Price said. “It was better to get a little clarity. I had mentioned to coach Taylor and coach (Jim) Turner both the last three weeks being in different spots, different lineups, different positions — left guard, right guard, center, center this week, center with the 2s. There is a mental aspect to the game and to understand where you are at, it’s easier for you to progress and focus on certain things to get better at.”
Hopkins had started 12 games at right guard in 2017 and took over at center last year for six games while Price was out with a toe injury suffered in Week 2 against the Ravens.
Price is by no means out of the picture at center or guard, Taylor reiterated.
“He’s a guy we’re going to count on for a long time,” Taylor said. “He’s going to continue to be a leader for us. This is just the way it’s shaken out for us this preseason, and he unfortunately had to fight through that foot injury that set him back a little at the beginning of training camp but we feel about the group we have in that room.”
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