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Bengals might not draft a center; a quick look at the offensive line in the draft

Dan Santucci -- possible heir to the starting center throne.

Is there a possibility that the Cincinnati Bengals might not draft a center in the second round?

As far as I can remember, the general feeling for this NFL draft (dating back midway through the 2008 season), was that we would draft a left tackle and a center on the first day. For the most part, that general feeling has remained. At times we play with the idea of drafting a defensive play-maker to ride a progressive defense that, for the first time during the Marvin Lewis era, was optimistic with youth and talent. In other words, we're getting there, while not quite there, hoping to get another defensive play-maker to get us there. It could work.

Kyle Cook runs his hand through his flowing manly locks.

But as time passes, we're reminded that Carson Palmer is, in fact, the team's quarterback and the biggest issue resurfaces. Protecting the God of Golden Arms. Early, the mock drafts ranged from wide receiver (until Laveranues Coles signed) to running back (until Cedric Benson re-signed). Defensive tackle, linebacker, and defensive end are still interesting picks. Then a Chicago-based blogger for the Sun Times, via a league source, said that the Bengals are looking to trade Levi Jones. If no trade avails itself, they're releasing him. Marvin Lewis didn't deny this, but didn't confirm it either (in other words, a Marvinism). In the end, we have to protect Palmer. In the end, offensive tackle is a critical need.

Center is another issue. Whereas we need to upgrade left tackle to protect Palmer, we need a center that can quarterback the offensive line and handle the AFC North's beastly defensive lines. Ever since Rich Braham left and Eric Ghiaciuc inherited the job, the team's average yard-per-rush dropped from 4.2 in 2005 to 3.7, 3.7 and 3.6. Between 2003-2005, the offense rushed for 5,736 yards (119.5 rush-yards per game). During the three subsequent seasons, the Bengals rushed for 4,705 yards (98 rush-yards per game). A 1,000-yard rushing drop-off is quite significant.

Are the rushing woes by the offense Ghiaciuc's fault? As much as we like to place blame on a certain person, hoping that we fix that problem with one single change, it wouldn't be right to blame just him. Truth is, Willie Anderson and Levi Jones started suffering injuries and Eric Steinbach left, forcing a natural tackle as a guard for the first time in his career. Rudi Johnson hit a wall and hasn't recovered while in many instances, the offense was either playing from behind, or simply didn't have the confidence to run the ball with any consistency. All the parts equal the sum. Or something like that.

With all that said, the issue remains. The Bengals need a left tackle and a center. Will it happen in the first day?

Marvin Lewis is talking Marvinisms, telling us that the two younger centers on the team are encouraging.

Lewis is also encouraged by two young centers that missed last season with injuries in 2007, seventh-round draft pick Dan Santucci and waiver-wire pickup Kyle Cook.

"We drafted a tackle a year ago if we didn't have Stacy," Lewis said of Collins. "There's going to be somebody somewhere that doesn't have any experience. Dan Santucci and Kyle Cook have had two years in the building. That doesn't mean they don't have experience. They've been here for two years. At some point you have to let some guys play. That's the great thing about the word 'experience.' You don't get it until you play."

Lewis said he's comfortable with the ability of Santucci and Cook to make calls and recalled that the Colts once signed Santucci away from their practice squad before the Bengals got him back.

Maybe this is one of those, we're not showing our hand type of deals. Who knows. Either way, the issues remain. We need a left tackle to help protect Palmer. We need a center to improve our rushing offense.