The Bengals offensive line. There wasn't a phrase spoken in 2008 that didn't frighten us more. Carson Palmer's bloody nose. Injured elbow. The 29th best rushing offense in the league, averaging 95 yards per game. It wasn't pretty. Football Outsiders ranked the offensive line as the worst run blocking unit in the league. The offense only scored six rushing touchdowns, tying the Browns as the fewest in the league. Only the San Francisco 49ers (55) and Detroit Lions (52) gave up more sacks than the Bengals (51). We would love to know the average time quarterbacks have dropping back and where the Bengals rank. On second thought, no we wouldn't.
The line's performance last season was forgettable -- at least we're trying to forget it. No, it was atrocious. But the truth is if the Bengals can't upgrade and improve the line's performance over last year, then they're going nowhere. It's a simple thing in football. A good offensive line and things happen. A bad offensive line and, well, things still happen. None of them good.
Eric Ghiaciuc wasn't resigned and Levi Jones was let go. What does that mean for the team this year and what have the Bengals done to improve the offensive line? Kyle Cook signed with Minnesota as an undrafted free agent before making his way to the Bengals practice squad to start the 2007 season. He played on Special Teams last year before being placed on Injured Reserve in October. Now Cook is the projected starting center and some people are already drawing Rich Braham comparisons. He's nasty. He's intelligent. And god willing, he's better than Eric Ghiaciuc.
Bobbie Williams is the only offensive lineman returning to the same position from the start of last year, while former left guard, Andrew Whitworth, slides out to left tackle. Nate Livings, after performing well enough at the close of last season, is rewarded with an opportunity to keep his spot at left guard.
But that's all secondary, isn't it? The biggest storyline with this group, is right tackle. Specifically, Andre Smith. We've examined and talked about (a lot) the backstory of our first-round draft pick. Lack of maturity. Perceived red flags of character issues. Whatever you want to call it, the backstory exists and it's been front and center this offseason. Musical chairs with agents. After that, contract issues. Will he sign soon? And if he signs late into training camp, will he be ready against the Denver Broncos? There's no questioning his talent. Throughout his final year in college, Smith was often thought of, not just as the best offensive lineman, but also projected as the first overall draft pick. Things happened and it didn't work out that way.
- Is Smith even a concern with the Bengals having a fall back plan in Anthony Collins?
- Is Smith working out and staying in football shape during contract negotiations, which could be prolonged?
- Will Dan Santucci make a run at left guard or center?
- Will Jonathan Luigs replace Cook at center?
All things considered, the Bengals coaching staff believes this group is better this year than last. Center is upgraded. Left tackle is upgraded (if you think Whitworth is better than the combination of Jones/Collins). Right tackle is likely upgraded. And to be honest, as of right now, I have to agree with them. But as any old Zen Master says, "we'll see."