This offseason is about as enjoyable as the Akili Smith era, but with an expanded offseason at least we can hold out hope for the future that much longer. In my recent writings, I have been looking at the various position groups and reflecting on what work remains for free agency. Today, I will look at the offensive tackles.
Last season, Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth continued to emerge as a future star. Whitworth has deserved a Pro Bowl nod for the past two seasons but that recognition will have to wait until we start winning games. Right tackle has been a bit more of an enigma, as Anthony Collins, Dennis Roland, and everyone’s favorite disaster (Andre Smith) split time not getting the job done in 2010. Andrew Mitchell spent the season on IR, while Andrew Gardner got a late season call-up and Kirk Chambers was signed in November but neither saw game action.
Best case scenario: Whitworth, the 2nd round pick from the 2006 draft, finally breaks through and becomes a Pro Bowler. Someone emerges at right tackle, preferably Andre Smith due to his contract and potential. Rowland has great size, but he has got to improve his technique to regain his starting spot.
Worst case scenario: The right side of the line could continue to disappoint, as Andre Smith is looking more and more like a bust. The durable Whitworth is probably the only guy capable of holding up at left tackle long term, so an injury would be a catastrophe.
Another Possibility: A middle tier veteran free agent could possibly be signed, but I don’t really see it as a pressing issue as long as someone claims the right tackle spot. Smith has the natural ability but his work ethic leaves a lot to be desired. Collins is decent, and Rowland has the measurables, but none of these guys stepped up last season.
Outlook: I think we have the personnel, we just have to get them playing at their potential. Whitworth was a great pick in 2006, as he has great strength and has shown that he can handle speed and bull rushes. His only flaw is he gets called for too many penalties, which may be a case of Bengalitis affecting the vision of the referees. Smith is probably best suited for the power side of the line, but he will have to overcome his injury history and questionable work ethic for the unit to be great.