In the weeks since the completion of the NFL draft, I have been looking at the various offensive position groups in an effort to shed light on where the team currently stands with their personnel and to foreshadow needed moves once free agency begins. Today, I will complete the offensive positions with a look at the centers.
I think a lot of us probably overlooked the importance of Rich Braham until he retired after suffering an injury in week 2 of the 2006 season. Braham was solid, and his experience calling protections was sorely missed in his absence. Eric Ghiaciuc, a 4th round pick in 2005, was drafted to be his eventual replacement, but he struggled and was eventually let go after the 2008 season. In 2009, the Bengals drafted Jonathan Luigs of Arkansas, one of the top center prospects that season. His career, however, was short lived as he only played one season in the NFL. Fortunately, the Bengals grabbed undrafted free agent Kyle Cook off of waivers from the Vikings in 2008, and he has started every game the past two seasons. Cook signed an Exclusive Rights Free Agent tender offer for the 2010 season, but it appears he was not tendered for the 2011 season as a restricted free agent (the team did not officially release the tender offers for 2011, but reports from media outlets do not list him among the tendered players). All indications are that the club plans to bring him back as the starter. Reggie Stephens, a 7th round pick in the 2010 draft, serves as Cook’s backup but has never made it onto the active gameday roster.
Best case scenario: Kyle Cook has to stay healthy, as he has for the past two seasons. He has been solid, and the team is banking on his continued improvement.
Worst case scenario: If Cook were to leave via free agency or suffer an injury, the team would be without an experienced starter, as Stephens has no game experience and we don’t have Eric Steinbach around to play every position on the line anymore.
Another Possibility: Teams that get it, and we aren’t one of them, consider center to be a position worthy of spending a high draft pick on. It’s highly unlikely the team will pursue a solid veteran based on the value they place on the position. A lower tier player could be added to give us some experienced depth, but the priority remains to get Cook locked up long term.
Outlook: The team is banking on getting Cook signed, and all indications are that the team and player will get this done as soon as the league opens for business. Our recent draft history hasn’t been good at the position, with Ghiaciuc and Luigs both out of the league. Playing against the stud nose tackles in our division can expose weaknesses, as happened to Eric Ghiaciuc in his time here, and Cook has been up to the task so far.