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Cincinnati Bengals Training Camp Preview: Offensive Tackles

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Football isn't won or lost by a quarterback's arm, the vision of a running back or the athleticism of a wide receiver. It's not won by the jarring hits of a vicious linebacker, or the outrageous instincts of a defensive back. Football is won and lost, throughout every level that the game is played, in the trenches. Without quality blockers standing guard, quarterbacks would be sacked, forced into terrible throws that lead to game-losing interceptions. Without quality blockers forming lanes, running backs bounce off the congestion, lose steam and find themselves stranded against even the worst defense.

Continuing our training camp preview, we take a look at the Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackles (interior offensive line will come later).

Player Age Season Acquired School
Andrew Whitworth 30 7th '06 Draft (2nd) LSU
'11 PFF Overall '11 PFF Pass '11 PFF Rush '11 QB Sacks / Hits / Hurries '12 Salary*
13.1 18.4 -7.8 3 / 3 / 16 $4.55 Million

Andrew Whitworth had what some have described as a "down" season in 2011, even making unsubstantiated conclusions that he's entering the the start of an overall decline. Maybe he is. But one season where he goes from exceptional to damn good is hardly justification for such conclusions. At least not until a trend is established. Despite being graded as one of the league's top offensive tackles in pass protection, Whitworth dealt with an injury that impacted his strength in the running game, negating his overall strength and push.

Whitworth started his NFL career as a backup to Levi Jones, eventually shifting to left guard, replacing the departed Eric Steinbach. When Cincinnati released Jones prior to the 2009 season, they moved Whitworth back to left tackle where he's held station ever since. Not only has he shown to be a consistent dominance on the offensive line, he's routinely mentioned among most NFL-specific organizations (non-mainstream media) as one of the league's premier left tackles.

And just as importantly, Whitworth, who is the Bengals players representative, is clearly one of the squad's leaders, organizing offseason workouts during the NFL lockout last year. After signing a five-year extension on August 31, 2011, Whitworth won't become a free agent until 2016.

Player Age Season Acquired School
Andre Smith 25 4th '09 Draft (1st) Alabama
'11 PFF Overall '11 PFF Pass '11 PFF Rush '11 QB Sacks / Hits / Hurries '12 Salary*
-1.7 4.8 -4.4 3 / 8 / 17 $4.5 Million

Defined as the ultimate bust in 2009 and 2010, Smith shifted from disappointment with a terrible work ethic into an ally of hard work, losing weight with a diet that was designed to keep him healthy. Additionally Smith, who realized his first two seasons were basically a waste, found it within himself to refocus on his NFL career telling Whitworth last offseason that it's time to step up. Look at it this way. When Smith showed up for training camp in 2010, he reportedly weighted 370 pounds.

Now reportedly under 330 pounds with an ambitious desire to become a dominant run blocker, Pro Football Focus named him the most improved Bengals player last year and Marvin Lewis said of Smith back in February, "He became the guy we hoped we drafted and maybe he wasn't going to show those signs in year one, but we hoped he wasn't hurt and could show them in year two. OK, it took till year three, but he did it and that's what's key."

Provided he remains healthy, which obviously remains his biggest hurdle, Smith will be the team's starting right tackle when the Bengals take the field on Monday Night Football during the regular season opener.

Player Age Season Acquired School
Anthony Collins 26 5th '08 Draft (4th) Kansas
'11 PFF Overall '11 PFF Pass '11 PFF Rush '11 QB Sacks / Hits / Hurries '12 Salary*
4.3 4.2 -0.9 0 / 0 / 1 $700,000

After failing to find a new team to sign with during the offseason as a free agent, Anthony Collins signed a two-year contract with Cincinnati worth $2.5 million. The deal is back-loaded with a base salary of $1.8 million in 2013, giving the Bengals room to play with this year on the team's payroll. And really. With over $16 million available under the salary cap, one must find ways to shift money around to make it work.

Collins, who has started at both tackle positions in his Bengals career, figures to be the team's primary backup tackle behind both Whitworth and Smith. And don't expect Collins to rotate with the offensive line. Of the 177 offensive snaps Collins took part in during the 2011 season, 173 were as Andre Smith's replacement after Smith suffered an injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers and sat the two subsequent games.

Player Age Season Acquired School
Dennis Roland 29 7th Free Agent (2008) Georgia
'11 PFF Overall '11 PFF Pass '11 PFF Rush '11 QB Sacks / Hits / Hurries '12 Salary*
-0.5 1.5 0.0 0 / 0 / 0 $765,000

Offensive line coach and assistant head coach Paul Alexander has always appeared enamored with Roland. I mean, seriously. Roland is such a beast that he blots out the sun in Springfield when he stands. However his overall contributions took a severe decline after starting 24 games in 2009 and 2010, relegated mostly as a sixth offensive lineman during jumbo formations. Of the 85 offensive snaps that Roland participated in last year, 64 were rushing plays.

It's likely that Roland will compete against Matthew O'Donnell as the fourth offensive tackle, who stands an inch shorter than Roland but weights nearly 30 pounds more.

Player Age Season Acquired School
Matthew O'Donnell 23 1st UDFA '11 Queens (Canada)
'11 PFF Overall '11 PFF Pass '11 PFF Rush '11 QB Sacks / Hits / Hurries '12 Salary*
N/A N/A N/A N/A $390,000

An undrafted free agent following the 2011 NFL draft, O'Donnell spent last year on the team's practice squad. Ranked as a top-ten prospect in the Canadian Football League, O'Donnell opted for the NFL where the Bengals continue working on his development. As we pointed out above, it's likely that O'Donnell competes against Roland as the fourth offensive tackle on the team, with a bigger build (though an inch shorter) and reportedly more balance in the run and pass.