When it comes to Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Andre Smith, who reunited with the team that drafted him after spending just one injury-plagued year in Minnesota, familiar surroundings belie a change of pace. Due to their free agency losses, Cincinnati is looking to plug their former right tackle at guard.
Not that it is completely new to him—though it may as well be. Smith told reporters that the last time he played inside was when he was a freshman in high school. So he has been going back to school this spring and summer in order to get a crash course on the guard position at the NFL level.
Not that he would necessarily be out of place. At 6’4”, 325 pounds, he might be slightly toward the high range of average for the position in today’s game. When the Bengals took him coming out of the 2009 NFL Draft, there was talk about the possibility of him playing inside.
His offensive line coach, Paul Alexander, is excited to see him try to make the transition with the team. Alexander has been in the Bengals’ organization for decades, so he certainly should already have a pretty good indication of what he believes Smith would be capable of pulling off.
“I think Andre has a chance to be terrific at guard”, he told reporters. “He’s getting to start from the beginning this year with the base techniques and then learn the offense as he goes. If we all of the sudden picked him up a week before the season and said, ‘go play right guard’, I don’t think he could do it. But going through this progression I think he’ll be fine”.
Still, there will be a learning curve, he admits. “Everything happens a lot faster at guard”, Smith noted observing thus far. “But it’s been a fun experience transitioning from tackle to guard. Physically everything happens a little faster and mentally you have to think about a lot more than you do at tackle”.
There are alternatives for the Bengals should Smith struggle in the conversion, though none are particularly thrilling. They have, for example, Christian Westerman from last year’s draft, and there has been talk of Eric Fisher moving to guard, but the current plan is for him to start at right tackle.
Veteran Eric Winston is also a player who is capable of playing inside. Because of the struggles of Cincinnati’s young tackles, including Fisher, Winston ended up starting and logging a lot of playing time at right tackle a year ago.