Implications if Andrew Whitworth sits against the Minnesota Vikings

As if the Bengals couldn't possibly deal with any more injuries, their starting left tackle/guard suffered a concussion this week. Now the question is, will he play? And if not, then what?

The original band members on the offensive line was a rockin' crew of agility, power, youth, and enthusiasm. Kyle Cook started at center with Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler at guard and Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith at tackle. They rolled out three No. 1 hits of 160 yards or rushing or more while generally ranking in the top-ten according to most advanced NFL research organizations (Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus).

The band split. Members were replaced. Kevin Zeitler suffers a foot injury and Mike Pollak replaces him. Clint Boling is lost for the year with an ACL, Whitworth slides to left guard and Anthony Collins steps in at left tackle. In two games against the Chargers and Colts, the offensive line contributed to 319 yards rushing with another No. 1 hit at the top of the charts called, "No sack Andy"... that doesn't sound right at all. Dalton was sacked one time in the last three games with that configuration. That was what I was trying to say. Seriously. I got too cute.

Now a freak accident during Wednesday's practice, which ended with Whitworth suffering a concussion, could force the Bengals to make another change.

IF ANDREW WHITWORTH IS OUT...

Kevin Zeitler, who has missed the last four games, has been limited this week. But if he's able to go (and I think he will be), figure that he resumes his role as the team's starting right guard with his backup Mike Pollak, bouncing to left guard to replace Whitworth.

IF WHITWORTH AND ZEITLER ARE OUT...

The fact that Zeitler hasn't played in the last two games, despite being active and practicing during the weeks leading up to Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, offers two possible conclusions: 1) The Bengals didn't want to break what was working with Pollak at right guard or 2) Zeitler isn't healthy enough to be more effective than Pollak. There's a third, and simpler conclusion: He won't be healthy for the rest of this year and won't play until he's needed.

What happens if Whitworth and Zeitler are out?

Pollak will play one of the guard positions (presumably on the right where he's been serviceable) and one of three players will step in. Dennis Roland has some experience at guard, but mostly experimental during the preseason. Tanner Hawkinson has been inactive for nine games this season and the five games that he's been active in, he didn't play. Both are natural tackles. In theory, if one of those two becomes Cincinnati's answer, then Pollak most likely moves to left guard to pull on power running plays to the right.

There's Trevor Robinson, who put in some work at guard during the preseason, but has only played 10 snaps on offense this year (all during Cincinnati's week 11 win over Cleveland). Robinson, the darlin' center of '12, has been inactive in four games, didn't play in six (when he was active) but finally got on the field in the last four games, mainly as a special teams contributor. Maybe Robinson plays center with Kyle Cook at guard -- another preseason experiment.

Choices.

This is how I see it playing out.

Whitworth has a shot at playing, once he passes concussion protocols. However, these protocols take time. George Iloka passed his in three days, and if we're including Thursday, three days will pass before Cincinnati's game against the Minnesota Vikings. On the other hand, Carlos Dunlap was out for a month with one. Severity has everything to do with it but the early indications aren't suggesting that Whitworth will be gone for long.

In other words, don't freak out if Whitworth doesn't practice on Friday. All that matters for him is passing the protocol. He's played all season, so he's conditioned. He knows the plays and he'll study the gameplan. There are absolutely no worries in that regard.

Based on the information that we know today, let's call his opportunity a 50/50 proposition. Zeitler, I believe, can play if needed. Clearly his foot isn't 100 percent but this team is feeling injuries from everywhere. He'll go.

My prediction: Whitworth and Zeitler play, starting at left and right guard respectively.
My prediction II: I could be wrong.

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