The Cincinnati Bengals have been planning for the departure of Andrew Whitworth, their Pro Bowl left tackle, for a few years now. During the 2015 NFL Draft, they used their first two picks in the draft on tackles, with Cedric Ogbuehi being taken in the first round, followed by Jake Fisher in the second.
The only problem is that both of them have struggled and were benched when given the opportunity to play during the course of their first two seasons. This is in large part why the Bengals still had the desire to retain Whitworth, who signed a lucrative deal instead with the Rams.
Now the training wheels are off for this Bengals line, turning the bookend positions to their young tackles, and Ogbuehi finally getting the opportunity to move back to the left side, which is where he played in college, and where he has said that he feels more comfortable.
Cincinnati opened the 2016 season with Ogbuehi starting at right tackle after Andre Smith, their veteran starter at the position, left in free agency—ironically, after they lost two starters along the line, and Smith was released by his new team, the Bengals brought him back to play at right guard, now next to Fisher.
Ogbuehi, however, struggled to take Smith’s place and ended up being rotated in and out of games with veteran Eric Winston. Toward the end of the season, he was benched outright, and the team instead rotated Fisher with Winston. Needless to say, that is never something you want to have to do with your first-round draft pick.
He has, however, had extenuating circumstances. In fact, this is actually the first of his three offseasons in which he is going to be able to be a steady participant. As a rookie, he was overcoming an ACL injury, and a year ago, it was a sports hernia that was keeping him sidelined. The ability to get in as much time in practice as possible is crucial for a young player, and he knows it.
“This is the time where you get to slow the game down and work on technique. I never got to do that”, he said. “So I’m excited to do it this year. Just start over again. Work on my craft”. The Bengals are counting on that, since they really have no fallback option at this point, short of Winston, or something even more convoluted.
After a season in which he gave up double-digit sacks, Ogbuehi has been working on his upper body strength, working with Jay Glazer, training in MMA style, which I believe is something at least one of his teammates—Carlos Dunlap—has adopted in his regimen.
After a down season following five consecutive trips to the playoffs, the Bengals are tasked with assembling a competent offensive line that once was a strength. They have brought in some pedigreed players—technically they have two first-rounders and a second-rounder projected to start—but will it all come together? Much of that rides on Ogbuehi’s shoulders.