A tale of two positions. By returning all of the starters from last season, the Bengals have what most teams strive for on the offensive line, continuity. The longer an offensive line plays together, the perception is the more cohesive they are as a unit. After a well-fought game, you don't hear much about how the left guard played or how the extra lineman on jumbo packages delivered. You may hear about whether or not the line protected the quarterback or if the runner had lanes available to him. The popular belief is that the starters for the Bengals interior offensive line are set. They are probably the guys that held the post last season. This is probably a safe assumption, but not set in stone if there's another player that makes an impression in camp or the preseason.
Kevin Zeitler, a lock at right guard, is a former first-round draft pick that started every game last season. At this point he has outshined David DeCastro, selected before Zeitler in the first-round. Zeitler has the potential to be a mainstay for the next 10 years.
The first position battle will come at left guard. Travelle Wharton, signed during the offseason last year, suffered a major knee injury during preseason that prematurely ended his season. Clint Boling filled the spot and competed at a high level. He gave up only six sacks and received a Pro Football Focus score of 7.5. However, the first major question that needs to be answered is Wharton's rehabilitation. If he's not ready, the Bengals can easily stick with Boling at left guard. If he is, the Bengals will have yet another entertaining camp battle.
Mike Pollak, who spent his first four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts before a one-game tour in Carolina last season, is tabbed as a backup guard. The Bengals added Pollak to provide depth on the offensive line, should one of the starters be injured. Pollak's advantage over younger competition is experience. T.J. Johnson, the seventh-round pick out of South Carolina, and John Sullen out of Auburn are hoping to compete for back-up roles.
The other major position battle is at center between the incumbent Kyle Cook and the challenger Trevor Robinson. We saw a small sample with Robinson last season when Cook went down with an injury. On the surface it looked like Robinson outperformed Cook. However, it was a small sample and the position battle figures to be featured prominently during camp.
Unless something unexpected occurs from now until September, we're looking at the same three interior linemen that started last year. Boling played well enough to hold his spot, Zeitler is a lock for years to come, and Cook appears to be the Bengals first choice to start at center. There are many that prefer Robinson, but as Josh recently detailed, the reality might be slightly unfocused.
in the seven games that Robinson started, the Bengals averaged 144 yards rushing. Fantastic. Great work. High-fives. Yet five of those seven games were against rushing defenses that ranked No. 18 or worse (four ranked No. 22 or worse).
Kyle Cook returns and suddenly the offense takes a collective nose-dive. Some finger-pointing was leveled at the veteran entering his sixth season. In reality, not even close to 100 percent healthy, Cook's first regular season start came against the second-ranked rushing defense in Pittsburgh during week 16. He followed that up with a cameo appearance against the Ravens, then the seventh-ranked rushing defense in Houston.
Let the battle be decided in camp. At the very least it will make for good TV.