Nate Livings wasn't alone in having a poor game for the Bengals during Friday night's preseason opener in Detroit. Leon Hall, the newly signed outside linebackers and quarterbacks all had rough starts to the 2011 season against the Lions. But, with the pass protection problems this team has faced in recent years, the spotlight shined bright on Livings and the errors he committed.
As we mentioned in our breakdown of the game, Livings committed a holding penalty, gave up a sack and allowed numerous additional pressure onto the quarterback which led to errant throws. This performance was especially troubling because it was Andy Dalton's first career NFL game and the line, namely the team's offensive guards, allowed the rookie to get harrassed by the likes of Ndmuakong Suh and Corey Williams. Given Dalton's poise, it probably didn't rattle him for the future, but the not-so-unexpected performance of the line was ominous for the rest of 2011.
Don't tell Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander any of that nonsense about Livings' performance. He won't have any of it. When Bengals.com writer, Geoff Hobson, asked Alexander about the guard situation in the wake of the last game, the coach rushed to his player's defense:
"Who replaces him?" And it reminds him of the heat guard Mike Goff took 10 years ago before he became a starter on some very good San Diego playoff teams.
"They don't know what the hell is going on," Alexander said of the critics. "I stood up for Goff all the time. He got run out of this town. Goff played until he was 35. I read the stuff about Nate. I don’t think it's fair about Nate. Other guys make mistakes and it's Nate's fault. I don't buy it. Nate is having a good camp."
Alexander seems to really like the type of player Nate Livings is. He claims that no one around the Bengals facility refers to No.62 with his birth name, but rather address him as "Nasty", with Alexander following that adjective up with "tough" and "smart". These are qualities that every team wants in their lineman--but do we really see that in Livings' play? Debateable. Regardless, Alexander wouldn't rule out other guards getting the opportunity to get more playing time and/or take the starting position, but it sounds as if he's set on Livings being the starter for the forseeable future.
Overall, it sounds as if Alexander is pleased with his group. He likes rookie fourth-round selection Clint Boling and plans to get him into this week's game earlier than he did last week though, oddly enough, Alexander said that he didn't know which guard spot Boling would play. He also mentioned new free agent guard, Max Jean-Gilles, in a favorable light. He just didn't proclaim them ready to unseat Livings and start for the team. Perhaps the most encouraging thing that came out of Alexander's mouth Tuesday was him noting the progress of Andre Smith. He thought Smith played well and has also been improving in practice since Friday's game.
It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out (and how Josh reacts). Either Alexander truly likes what he sees out of Livings and felt the need to rush "his guy's" rescue under heavy criticism, or maybe we can read between the lines with the compliments he gave the other guards and he's just not trying to create a volatile situation. Whatever Alexander's reasons, we hope that he chooses the best player to start at the position beecause it needs to get fixed now.
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