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Bengals offensive line is a question about inexperience

B.J. Bethal writes in response to Dave's optimistic post review, "can anyone find the depth chart and name one quality offensive lineman on the roster?" One must define quality. Does quality mean Pro Bowl? Or does it mean a lineman that could start with other teams? What about Andrew Whitworth? Could Bobbie Williams be quality? Even Anthony Collins' brief stint as the starting left tackle were quality enough performances -- and he's projected as the team's first backup offensive tackle. There is quality there. The better question is if the 2009 starting lineup will bring quality performances among the team's offensive line.

But the question isn't about quality right now. The issue is wondering if inexperience will transform into a collective quality.

Williams is the only lineman projected to start at the same spot he started when last season kicked off. Nate Livings is a leading candidate to start at left guard, where he started the final six games last season. Whitworth hasn't started at left tackle since the third week in the 2007 season (though he did take snaps at left tackle against the Eagles in 2008). Kyle Cook has no career starts. Andre Smith has yet to sign his first NFL contract and Anthony Collins -- the tackle that would likely start over Smith if contract negotiations are drawn out -- made all of six career starts at left tackle. The following chart is easy enough to read. Games started isn't total NFL starts; it's games started at that position (Bengals career). Total starts is based on NFL career.

Position Projected Starter Games Started Total Starts
Left Tackle Andrew Whitworth 13 38
Left Guard Nate Livings 6 6
Center Kyle Cook 0 0
Right Guard Bobbie Williams 77 89
Right Tackle Andre Smith 0 0
  Anthony Collins 0 6

Based simply on position projections that we're led to believe, the Bengals have 96 games worth of starting experience -- however, 80% of that experience is Bobbie Williams. We knew the Bengals were to become an inexperienced offensive line when Eric Ghiaciuc, Stacy Andrews and Levi Jones departed (not offered contract, left for Philly, released). Center Jonathan Luigs was drafted alongside Smith to join Collins and Livings with the team's dedicated effort to rebuild the offensive line around veterans Whitworth and Williams -- who is entering the final year under contract.

Here's the biggest key of all. With the amount of inexperience starting on the Bengals offensive line, I believe it's an unrealistic expectation that the Bengals will become the offensive line of 2005 where Carson Palmer had a career year and Rudi Johnson set the franchise rushing record. It might be unrealistic to expect a 17-sack allowed season like 2007. There will be growing pains. And it's very likely that the Bengals will have to move personnel between now and the first game of the regular season in order to put together the best fit.