On this Memorial Day, I want to take a moment to say thank you to the men and women protecting our freedom all over the world, and most especially my nephew Mark Bates, a Bengals fan stationed in Iraq. We miss you Mark, stay safe… Today, I will continue my position by position review of the 2011 Bengals by taking a look at the offensive guards.
Anchoring the right side of our line is a Bobbie Williams, who is entering the last year of his contract and will be turning 35 this September. I got to meet Bobbie at training came last season, and I was blown away by the size of this man. He towered over me and my sons. He was also one of the friendliest players we met, taking time to pose for pictures and sign autographs and actually smile and chit chat with us. I am sure that training camp in 90+ degree heat is tough on a big man, and that made him all the more impressive to us. We all left camp big fans of Bobbie Williams. On the left side, Nate Livings took advantage of an injury to Evan Mathis to claim the starting spot and to his credit, he held on to it for all sixteen games. Livings is an unrestricted free agent, though the team will likely want him back. Mathis also is unrestricted and is likely to leave.
Otis Hudson, a 2010 5th round pick, spent last season on the practice squad and will add depth along with one of the best value picks in this season’s draft, Georgia’s Clint Boling. Boling, considered a 2nd round value by some draft analysts, was a great pickup and is probably the long term answer for one of the spots, while there has been talk of moving Andre Smith inside to guard as the long term answer at the other. Former DT Jason Shirley had converted to guard last season and is coming off of an Achilles injury, so he is facing an uphill battle to make the team.
Best case scenario: Williams anchors the right side, Livings or rookie Boling establishes himself on the left, and we have one of the better guard tandems in the league.
Worst case scenario: Williams begins to slow as he heads into the latter portion of his career. The lack of practice time delays Boling’s development. The team loses Livings and Mathis to free agency.
Another Possibility: Smith is the unknown here, as he could be a great guard with his size and strength, but our lack of depth at tackle may keep him at that spot.
Outlook: Our guards are a solid unit, though they will not get the accolades that they would if they were playing for the Steelers or Pats. We have a great mix of youth and veteran leadership. It’s one of the few spots where we have more answers than questions. Look for Williams to survive final cuts to groom the young guys, and expect Boling to be starting for us in 2012.