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Youth on the offensive line; playoff-bound or rebuilding year?

I admit it. I worry about things. Like how critical it is for the offensive line to keep Carson Palmer upright. There's a lot of impressed opinion that the Bengals will be a much better team now that Palmer is healthy. And I agree. However, a voice goes off in my head saying, "Palmer was healthy before the 2008 season, what happened then?" He got hurt. Levi Jones. Andre Whitworth. Eric Ghiaciuc. Bobbie Williams. Stacy "9.5 sacks" Andrews.

We are replacing three starting linemen from last year's kickoff weekend. A center and both tackles. Critical spots for pass protection. A smart center can call the protection schemes, point out blitzes, prepare for eventual stunts.

Dan Santucci, Kyle Cook, Andrew Crummey will compete with rookie Jonathan Luigs as the starting center. All four players have 13 games worth of NFL experience -- most of which isn't at center. Crummey played in the last series against the Colts as the team's center in 2008; however, most of his time during the season was on special teams. Similarly, Kyle Cook's action was on special teams in 2008; he was a practice squad player in 2007. Santucci played two games worth of special teams in 2007, and spent all of last season on IR.

Tackles, well, they have to defend against the defense's best players; well-paid defensive ends and speedy outside linebackers. The projected starting lineup is Andre Smith and Anthony Collins. We're still not sure where the team plans on placing them, even though Smith received most of his snaps at left tackle during rookie minicamp.

The point in all this is that both tackles and center will be manned by youth, youth, youth. Even though Cook, Crummey and Santucci have some NFL experience, it's mostly on special teams; so based on playing only center, you could compare their experience to an NFL rookie. Here's the thing. With all this inexperience and youth, there's going to be growing pains.

Remember that voice telling you to be cautious about Palmer's return? You just hope that those growing pains doesn't make it too painful for Palmer.

+ WDR agrees with everyone else's assessment that the Bengals won't make the playoffs. I can see both points here. Many teams require a "rebuilding season" to get the pieces together for a playoff run. Last year wasn't that rebuilding season. We had aging players on the roster taking a majority of the snaps, eventually replaced because of injury, not because of any perceived youth movement. This year, they have that rebuilding make-up, signing several veteran players to one-year contracts while the more youthful transition is being primed.

On the other hand, how many teams have made that impressive jump from terrible to playoff-bound? How many times have we seen that in recent memory? Furthermore, we're not just implementing rookies. We're getting some of our more critical components back. You can't predict things like this, obviously. Not in May. But I can see both things happening; playoffs, or a rebuilding year.

Links and notes:

Chick Ludwig says that Palmer will be on a "strict pitch count" during training camp.

James Walker specifically posted about the Bengals. I know! I know! His topic? Who's out at WR for the Bengals?

Geoff Hobson breaks down the position battles that will likely take us into camp -- barring unforeseen injury and the like.