Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has a philosophy. He likes for his position coaches to have first-hand observations with prospects entering the NFL draft. And persistent questions about the team's situations on the left side of the offensive line could make Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander one of the more important coaches during the predraft process (aka, combine, invites, pro days, etc.) this year.
What questions? Most of you know. For the uninformed (or brand-spanking new Bengals fans... such as children born at Children's Hospital last night), Andrew Whitworth, the team's long-time starting left tackle, slid to left guard when Clint Boling suffered a season-ending knee injury against the San Diego Chargers.
Whitworth was mostly brilliant with the transfer, generating specific options during the offseason. Re-sign Anthony Collins, soon-to-be a free agent, who played equally as brilliant in 2013. Or draft an offensive tackle. Or leave it all along and reset to the starting lineup with Whitworth at left tackle and Boling at left guard, who is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season.
As the NFL Combine heats up with workouts and drills among the offensive line on Saturday, Alexander is watching.
"The eyeball test is still a pretty good test. Guys who pick horses can pick them out before the race," Alexander said via Bengals.com. "There are a lot of guys with NFL bodies. No fat guys. Big, athletic-looking kids with long arms. You see the reach, you see the kids up there and it kind of confirms it's a good draft for offensive linemen. There are a lot of tackles and a lot of guards. That's all I know."
According to CBS Sports' big board, there are nine offensive tackles with projections in the first two rounds of the 2014 NFL draft, including five possible first-rounders. Realistically, the Bengals could have a shot at names like Notre Dame's Zack Martin, Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio (who runs the 40 like most of us take high school finals) and Virginia's Morgan Moses. Possible second-rounders include Tennessee's Antonio Richardson, Ohio State's Jack Mewhort and North Dakota State's Billy Turner.
"We've got a lot of variables and we have to go in with our eyes wide open," Alexander said.
There are other questions, such as the starting center position, where Kyle Cook had the worst starting grade on the team's offensive line. However, prospects in the NFL draft are weak this year and if the team were to draft a center in the mid-rounds, most likely it would be as an eventual replacement, not serving an immediate need.
Paul Dehner Jr. with the Cincinnati Enquirer offers suggestions from Florida State's Bryan Stork, Arkansas' Travis Swanson and USC's Marcus Martin, while not completely removing thoughts about Trevor Robinson and T.J. Johnson, who was selected in the seventh round last year. Dehner favored Stork:
Of those in Indianapolis who fit the zone-blocking scheme employed by offensive line coach Paul Alexander, the natural connection could be Florida State center Bryan Stork. He matches the mold of intelligent, big-bodied interior lineman the team has favored in recent years. He’s projected anywhere from the third to fifth round.
Just don’t expect him to care much about his shuttle times and bench-press numbers.
"That’s irrelevant," Stork said. "I am a football player. Get me on the whiteboard, you can’t shut me up for three hours probably. I’ll just be going on. You just got to know your football and that is what I sell myself on."