It wasn’t so long ago that the Cincinnati Bengals had among the best offensive lines in the league. Boasting a pair of Pro Bowlers at left tackle and right guard in Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, respectively, they filled out their lineup with solid starters across the board like Andre Smith at right tackle and Russell Bodine at center.
The downward turn already began last season after Smith signed with the Vikings in free agency, but although he is back this year, there is no good reason to expect that he will be much an improvement. In fact, they are not even going to be playing him at right tackle, but at right guard.
With both Zeitler and Whitworth leaving in free agency, Cincinnati is counting on a lot of unknowns to fall in line with what they need. They are moving Smith to right guard to replace Zeitler while banking on their two young tackles to provide bookend protection.
That is not very encouraging, and Pro Football Focus notes that “the drafted replacements—Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher—have looked lost any time they’ve seen the field”. The quote comes from an article ranking all 32 offensive lines based on projected starting lineups in 2017.
Once in the top five, PFF expects them to be near the bottom, ranking them 31st. It would be hard to argue when you consider the fact that they lost their two blue-chip players and are counting on unknown commodities at no fewer than three starting positions.
When one of your two sources of stability along the offensive line is Russell Bodine, you have a problem. While not a bad player, he is the sort of player who is a complementary piece rather than a cornerstone. You want him to be your worst starter, rather than your best.
And he was, for a couple of years, but if anything, they need him to pick his game up even more, especially now that he will be working with a player at right guard who is inexperienced at the position. Smith told reporters that he hasn’t played guard since well before college.
On the eve of free agency, the Bengals had a pretty good sense that they were not going to be able to keep both of their prized linemen hitting the open market, those being Whitworth and Zeitler. But they thought that they would be able to keep at least one of them. Taking both hits really set them back.
The only notable addition that they made was bringing back Smith, and they are not even playing him in position. So much of their success this year is going to rest on the significant improvement of Ogbuehi and Fisher, neither of whom have come close to looking the part through two seasons.