Last year, the Bengals didn't need their 1st round pick. They swept through the AFC North, for the most part, without him because of a combination of a hold out and a broken foot. This year is a different story. The Bengals will need Andre Smith to step up. It's now or bust (literally) for the big man.
For the first time in recent years, the starting offensive line will relatively be the same two years back to back. Andrew Whitworth will be protecting Carson Palmer's blind side. Kyle Cook will be calling the shots at center. Bobbie Williams will be shoring up the line at right guard. The only questions marks lie at left guard and right tackle.
At left guard, the Bengals will have a few guys to choose from. Nate Livings, Evan Mathis, Jason Shirley and fifth-round pick Otis Hudson will all by competing for a starting job. Ideally, the right tackle position belongs to one person: Andre Smith.
Joe Reedy thinks that the pressure is on Smith to take that starting job and I agree. Reedy wrote:
The line certainly made better progress than anyone would have envisioned at this point last year, but Smith will be facing pressure to win the starting spot at right tackle while there has to be a clear starter emerge at left guard. Which lineman who we don’t know a lot about could surprise this year? It could be fifth-round pick Otis Hudson who on the early depth charts could be backing up Williams at right guard.
It was expected of Smith to start last year. It's usually expected of any first round pick to start with a few minor exceptions depending on the position (quarterback). Unfortunately, Smith held out on his contract and when he did show up for practice, he looked like he stopped at every buffet from Alabama to Ohio and put them out of business. His feet felt the strain too, hence the broken foot.
By the end of the year though, Smith was logging some considerable playing time and, if you payed attention to him on the field, occasionally showed everybody why he was taken in the first round. Now is his time to to prove all of the naysayers wrong... or right.
AFC North blogger James Walker thinks that Smith is in a second year "Stud or Dud" group along with guys like Cleveland wide receiver Brian Robiskie, Baltimore defensive end Paul Kruger and of course.... Chase Coffman.
Cincinnati recently made various upgrades to its skill positions on offense. But one of the biggest additions this year could be a healthy and productive Andre Smith. The Bengals swept the AFC North in 2009 with little impact from their No. 6 overall pick. A broken foot sidelined Smith for 10 games until he was healthy enough to contribute mostly as a backup later in the year. Additional foot surgery has kept Smith from doing team drills this offseason, but he is optimistic that his foot problems will soon be a thing of the past. With the Bengals expected to air it out more this year, quarterback Carson Palmer could use the additional pass protection.
Agreed. This has got to be the season for more than one player including Smith. If he doesn't produce this year, he'll begin to look like a waste of money and talent and a first round-round pick.
I give him good odds though. If I was a betting man (I am), I'd put my money on Smith and Williams dominating the right side of the line, protecting Palmer from pass rushers and leading Benson to another 1,000 yard season.
And just if you're curious, Walker doesn't see as bright of a future for Coffman.
Despite Cincinnati recently drafting tight end Jermaine Gresham in the first round, the team could still benefit from a healthy Coffman. Gresham and Coffman, who didn't play a game in the regular season last year, could be two additional weapons in the passing game that Cincinnati didn't have last season. Most project Gresham to beat out Coffman for a starting job. The Bengals also re-signed veteran tight end Reggie Kelly, who is one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL. That probably leaves a limited amount of playing time for Coffman, who has to make the most of his opportunities.