While the Bengals weren't necessarily active in the first few days of free agency, when guys like Carl Nicks and Mario Williams were available, they have made their fair share of signings, especially on the offensive line. Heading into the 2012 season, we have known for a long time that guard would be a major need. The Bengals lost (voluntarily) Nate Livings and Mike McGlynn in free agency and Bobbie Williams is a free agent as well (unsigned currently). That left only Clint Boling and Otis Hudson at the guard positions for the Bengals and between the two of them, they have less than five games of experience in the NFL.
Carl Nicks and Ben Grubbs were the biggest named guards to hit free agency and while it would have been nice to land one of them, we all knew it wouldn't happen. And it didn't. Nicks went to Tampa Bay and Grubbs went to New Orleans to replace him. That's when the Bengals made their first move. They signed free agency veteran guard Travelle Wharton and later free agent guard Jacob Bell.
Now they're back to having four guards and you really have to wonder if they're in a position where they need to select a guard in the first couple rounds.
We can already assume that Wharton will be the Bengals' new starting left guard between Andrew Whitworth and Kyle Cook, and he'll be a significant upgrade over Nate Livings, who started at left guard most of last year. This means that the big competition will come at right guard where Jacob Bell, Clint Boling and Otis Hudson could fight for a starting job.
Bell has started at left guard for most of his career as well. While he's coming off a bad season for the St. Louis Rams, in which he allowed four sacks, three hits and 12 pressures and struggled badly as a run blocker, He only allowed seven sacks in the previous three seasons (2.3 per season) and his grades as a run blocker, while not great, were much better. If Bell were to play the way he did from '08 through '10, he would be a slight upgrade over Livings. If he repeated his play in '11, he'd be about the same as Livings or McGlynn.
Then there is Boling, who started the first three games of his rookie year in 2011 at right guard for the Bengals. Boling didn't allow any sacks in the five games he played in, but he still graded negatively in both pass protection and at run blocking.
Drafting a guard like David DeCastro, Cordy Glenn or Amini Silatolu would likely give the Bengals their starter at right guard, especially in the case of DeCastro and probably Glenn, and would put Bell in the backup role along with Boling and maybe put Hudson on the practice squad or release him. Most mock drafts expect the Bengals to go this route, but maybe we shouldn't be too terribly surprised if they don't. It's likely that DeCastro isn't on the board when the Bengals go on the clock and they could pass on Glenn even if he is available.
If they're convinced that Bell is an upgrade over Livings and they feel that he can start, they may grab a wide receiver, another pass rusher or a safety along with a cornerback in the first round and then the best player available in the second. We've said a thousand times that the Bengals have never selected a guard in the first round and that they seem not to value the position like they do others.
And we can't forget about Bobbie Williams either. Williams excelled at run blocking this season before his injury and despite his age, could be a better option to start at right guard than Bell, Boling or Hudson.
In the end, though, I think it would be best, for the future of the Bengals to address the guard position early in the draft with either DeCastro, Glenn or Silatolu. While Bell could be a decent backup, one of the top rookies could be the future of the position. Don't be surprised if things don't go this way, though.