If you're new to football, I'll let you in on a little secret; the offensive line is the key component to any successful football team. In the 90s, my teenage years, I remember the Dallas Cowboys and their offensive line -- with a combined weight of three full sized adult elephants. Nate Newton, Mark Stepnoski, Mark Tuinei, Erik Williams, Larry Allen; these guys were awesome.
And I don't want to take anything away from Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Darryl Johnston, Alvin Harper, or Jay Novacek, but I question if their success would ever come to be without those big fat uglies up front.
Do the Bengals have a similar fate with their offensive line? Willie Anderson has truly left an impression with multiple Pro Bowl awards. True, his new-found disgruntled attitude, one that shocks me, has severely threatened his relationship with this city. But in the end, we'll remember the good Willie has given the Bengals and the Cincinnati community. His loyalty and outspoken leadership against other disgruntled players (notably Corey Dillon) earned a high level of respect with the Cincinnati faithful.
Levi Jones, former first round pick, had an incredible season shutting down some of the game's premier defensive ends. I truly believe he was jobbed on the Pro-Bowl selection with a second-alternate. Signing Jones for a long time would only make too much sense.
Eric Steinbach is versatile, playing emergency center, earning his first Pro-Bowl alternate. The former Iowa Hawkeye is a great pulling guard and has the quickness to reach the second level; especially against 3-4 defenses.
Bobbie Williams earned his contract extension and is the most under-rated in the group. While his talent isn't on par with Anderson, Jones, or Steinbach, he shouldn't be grouped as bad either -- he's just overshadowed by incredible talent. If the sod comes up on Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals call a run to the torn up side of the field; Anderson and Williams will have the dirt and grass compacted in no time.
Rich Braham is a great center. If he had two or three more seasons left in him, I would have no problem whatsoever signing him and starting every game until retirement. However, durability is clearly a problem as well as age. Like Anderson, Braham has been with Cincinnati since the mid-90s and a life on the offensive line is very hard on the body.
This most likely will be the final season these guys remain together. And for all I know the future with the offensive line could be far more superior. But I will remember this group of guys for a long time like I do those offensive lines in Dallas.