Most of Christian Westerman’s locker has been cleared out, and it doesn’t appear he will be returning to the Cincinnati Bengals.
The fourth-year guard has until 4 p.m. Wednesday to make a decision after stepping away from the team for personal reasons and being placed on the exempt/left squad list Friday.
Assuming he does not return, Westerman marks the third offensive linemen to leave in the last month. Veteran left guard Clint Boling retired in mid-July because of health concerns, and backup tackle Kent Perkins, who arrived as a college free agent in 2017, left the squad earlier last week after informing the Bengals he was considering retiring.
“All three situations are very much unrelated,” Taylor said. “I can’t speak to two of them (Perkins and Westerman). I know Clint had the blood clot issues and had two little kids he was worried about. Those other two were totally separate.”
Perkins played in one game during two seasons with Cincinnati, spending most of that time on the practice squad. He saw action on 47 percent of the offensive snaps in the preseason opener at Kansas City, but was third on the depth chart at right tackle, where Bobby Hart and Andre Smith are expected to get most of the meaningful snaps this year.
Westerman was getting a lot of first-team reps at left guard early in training camp, but John Jerry started ahead of him in the preseason opener, and more recently rookie Michael Jordan, a former Ohio State center/guard, has been seeing time with the No. 1s.
Fellow linemen Billy Price and Trey Hopkins both said they were surprised their teammates decided to leave — the decisions seemingly came out of the blue.
“Everyone’s got their own battles, their own personal demons, their family, so I can’t speak on why, but it’s unfortunate,” Price said Tuesday. “We just have to keep on going. Christian and Perkins I talk to somewhat often so I am wishing the best for them.”
Said Hopkins, “I’m praying for them and all that, but we’ve got stuff we’re trying to do here and unfortunately they chose not to be a part of it or they can’t be a part of it for whatever reason, but we’re still moving.”
Westerman’s departure has created more shuffling on the line this week. Cordy Glenn also is out with a concussion, so Andre Smith has stepped into the left tackle spot, but the starting left guard and center spots still appear very much unsettled. Price even got some reps at left guard Monday and Tuesday, as position coach Jim Turner continues to try to find the right combination to get the best five linemen on the field together.
Price recalls only playing guard for one snap in a walk-through last year, but said the versatility is good for him and the team.
“Whatever I’ve got to do, I’ve got to do,” Price said. “If I’m going to be on the field, I don’t care what tasks they give me — if it’s left guard for the team, if it’s right guard for the team — whatever best five combination the coaches feel, that’s going to be what I do. Trey and I both feel the same way, supportive of it and let’s just go out and win for the team.”
The 2018 first-round draft pick said the foot injury that kept him from the start of training camp is still something he has to “take care of,” but hasn’t set him back in practices.
Hopkins has been getting most of the first-team reps at center and also has been in the mix at guard. He was the Bengals’ starting right guard in 2017 and played both guard spots and center at various times last year.
“The one thing I’ve learned being here is just try not to focus on it (figuring out your role) too much and wherever I’m pointed to be at, I’ll be there to give it my all,” Hopkins said. “I’ve gotten a lot of chances to show my versatility. I think this year for a change, I’ve gotten to narrow it down a little bit so that’s been nice.”
Turner insists there are no frontrunners at either left guard or center, but he would like to have his starting five set sometime next week.
The Bengals host the New York Giants on Thursday, and that serves as the last big test before backups take the stage for the preseason finale Aug. 29 against Indianapolis.
“It’s a work in progress, like every position on the team,” Turner said. “It’s all about finding the right chemistry. So I think we’re headed in the right direction, but I think we’ve got a long way to go.”