In no rush for Kevin Zeitler's return; the narrative about Chris Pressley is really about John Conner

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

Taking a look at two stories filling our books, things we want to get off our chest as the Bengals kickoff practice for Steelers week.

+ We're back to the Kevin Zeitler question, who should start this weekend.

+ But if he's not 100 percent, the Bengals have Mike Pollak -- my nomination for surprise player of the year.

+ The narrative about Chris Pressley is really just our irritation about John Conner.

***

The question about Kevin Zeitler's availability won't impact the team's reconfigured offensive line, when Cincinnati travels to Pittsburgh this weekend. Instead of shuffling personnel that would impact several players/positions, Zeitler will just replace Mike Pollak, who has been more than a serviceable backup. Actually, he's been pretty good. According to Pro Football Focus' grading system, Pollak has comparative grades among his teammates, scoring a +6.7 against the Chargers and Colts combined, without allowing one pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton.

Raise your hand if your reaction wasn't particularly enthusiastic when the Bengals initially signed Pollak on April 12. Did you acknowledge that the team needed camp bodies? Did you shrug your shoulders in a gesture of whatever? Or were you still losing your marbles because the Bengals didn't sign every free agent available?

When the team signed Pollak to a one-year deal worth $780,000, I was in the middle -- in the space between caring and not caring. We needed depth, but whatever. He was a name in a bag of players competing for a job. Dump Mike McGlynn, grab Mike Pollak. A draw. Push. Or whatever term that's used in Tony Soprano's world. Once a parallel replacement in April, my overall perspective has changed to: "Thank God the Bengals scouting department and coaching staff know better than I."

Since the Bengals moved Andrew Whitworth to left guard and called on Pollak to replace the injured Zeitler at right guard, the offensive line is stringing together a level of production that we haven't seen since the '05 group. Those studs of the trenches. No, Kyle Cook isn't Richie Braham, and we need more information before we can even entertain the debate if Smith is on a path that would eventually lead to Willie Anderson comparisons (and that won't happen for another five years at least). Is Anthony Collins the next Levi Jones (when he was healthy, he was extremely good)? But who cares? This unit has cohesion, works well together, and they're producing.

However, Pollak is keeping Zeitler's seat warm. Zeitler, who was ranked as the seventh-best starting right guard in the NFL last year (as a rookie), practiced twice last week and was active against the Colts. Because Pollak is playing well, the team had the luxury of keeping Zeitler off the field to continue rehabilitation efforts, despite the critical nature of Sunday's game in terms of postseason seeding.

Next man up.

Clint Boling, out for the year? Move over Whitworth and (finally) have an excuse to bring Anthony Collins into the fold. Just remember this March when the Bengals sign a middle-of-the-road type of player, that they might know what they're doing. Yes, a dramatic shift from the 90s, but no less critical on how the team has responded to multiple injuries this season. All because of these minimum wage veterans that we shrug our shoulders at.

***

The Cincinnati Bengals waived fullback Chris Pressley on Tuesday, after his window for eligibility to transfer from the Physically Unable to Perform list expired. The Bengals had to choose: Place him on waivers or the 53-man roster. Despite a full calendar year passing, his knee hasn't exactly responded and there's no reason for the Bengals to keep him if he's not 100 percent. Once he clears waivers, the Bengals will have an opportunity to place him on Injured Reserve.

While some are disappointed that Pressley was waived, let's face facts.

We're just irritated that the Bengals released John Conner to keep Orson Charles. Conner, who was dropping defenders throughout the entire preseason, was released because Charles offered more versatility. Effective in the passing game, contributor on special teams, with a ceiling that represents solid investment, Charles directly led to an eventuality that Conner had no shot making this roster. Even when he was released during Hard Knocks, Conner asked what else he could have done. Nothing, Lewis offers. But he should have said that it was decided before Conner returned this year.

In reality, Conner, Pressley, Charles, it doesn't matter. Conner played three games with the Bengals last year (including the Wild Card game against Houston) and averaged less than ten snaps per game. And of the 29 snaps that Conner played, 25 were runs. Defensive coordinators love those easy tells. In Pressley's final ten games during that same year, he played more than 15 snaps in three games. The Bengals just aren't using typical fullbacks, save for short-yardage situations where Domata Peko makes random cameos. Alex Smith has played the H-Back role and his blocking has been serviceable -- best run blocking score recorded last week against the Colts.

And why would you? Not only would you declare a probability of running the football (outside third and short or goalline situations), you're removing one of Cincinnati's weapons off the field. And A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard, who are you removing? Don't worry about answering it because it's probably the wrong call.

Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wants to maximize personnel packages and a full-time fullback, that does little else on offense or special teams, isn't the type of player that Cincinnati is looking for anymore. Look at the offensive line, there's versatility -- players that can play multiple positions, all of whom play special teams in field goal and PAT situations. Even Anthony Collins lined up as a slot receiver against the Colts (laughably as a blocker on a bubble screen). No more X and Y receivers either -- A.J. Green plays everywhere (except the slot, why not the slot?!).

Natural fullbacks are slowly disappearing from the game; the Bengals aren't really any different.

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