October 31, 2014

This Roster Is Stacked: Offensive Line

As the old adage says, the game of football is won in the trenches. And in the past few years, as the Bengals have improved their drafts, they have done a better job of selecting those trench warriors who move earth and make the skill players we like look good.

Yesterday I looked through the guys currently on the roster on the defensive line, the pivot point of the team. Today I want to hop sides of the ball and look at the guys on the offensive line.

While the O-line still isn’t as deep as the D-line is, the Bengals made several moves to improve themselves from the group that walked off of the field in Houston back in January.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE. The Bengals typically keep four OTs. They currently have five on the roster, plus any pending UDFAs.

  • Andrew Whitworth: had a small step back in 2011, but still the anchor of the line.
  • Andre Smith: made a nice step forward in his third season first full season on the field without injury, but he needs to improve again if he wants to land another contract.
  • Anthony Collins: the perennial backup has starter quality. We will all be glad that the Bengals got him back if Whit or Andre misses time with an injury.
  • Dennis Roland: will never be a starter, but a decent fill-in/spot play guy.
  • Matthew O’Donnell: a huge (6′ 9″ tall, 340 lb)  guy who will have to push his way past Roland to avoid another season on the practice squad.

CENTER. The Bengals keep just one, asking one of the guards to be prepped as the backup center.

  • Kyle Cook: he isn’t Rich Braham, but you have to be impressed with what the Bengals have gotten out of a guy who was a UDFA at one point.

OFFENSIVE GUARD. The Bengals typically keep four OGs. They currently have five on the roster, plus any pending UDFAs.

  • Kevin Zeitler: the more I read about this kid, the more I like him. Big Bobbie’s successor should be a contributor to this team for a long, long time.
  • Travelle Wharton: should be better than his 2011 PFF rating. (Playing in front of an unconventional QB like Cam Newton skewed his grades.) Definitely an upgrade from Nate Livings.
  • Jacob Bell: not exactly the veteran acquisition fans were hoping for, but the coaches seem to think there is something left in his tank. Geez, I hope they are right, because I see more of a mess than a mass.
  • Clint Boling: the selection of Zeitler changes the trajectory of Boling’s career for the next few years from projected starter to back up.
  • Otis Hudson: the 5th round pick did not make it into a game last year. He has to beat out Bell if he wants to avoid the practice squad.

At first glance, this group does not stand out as dominant unit on paper. But we need to see what Wharton and Zeitler can do to improve the running game. With a little more punch from the line and a little more pop from the RBs (anyone else noticed that Cedric is still unsigned?), they could be just good enough.

Paul Alexander and Jay Gruden have to field their best 5 guys every game, no matter who they are. If Andre Smith hasn’t taken another big step forward by the end of camp, they cannot be reluctant to start Collins instead. Bell cannot make the squad simply because he is a veteran. They need a clear strategy and the guys that best implement that strategy. If they do, we will all be happy with the results.