When stalwart right tackle Andre Smith went down for the year with a triceps tear, fear began to cloud the Cincinnati Bengals. It wasn't the best year for Smith, but there is mounting evidence over his six years as a pro that he can be one of the best right tackles in football. And, not to single any single player out, but Marshall Newhouse's play in brief spells throughout 2014 wasn't instilling much confidence going forward.
In very un-Bengal-like fashion, the team sprung to make a somewhat splashy signing to address an important position as the push to the playoffs continued. Some were surprised that longtime veteran Eric Winston was still unemployed so late into the season, but the Bengals scooped him up and added him to the roster.
Unfortunately for Newhouse, the team started to be a bit obvious with their concerns with him as a starter as well, starting left guard Clint Boling at right tackle the past two games. With the Boling move, the team inserted Mike Pollak at left guard in an effort to try to find and play the five best linemen, somewhat disregarding position. This might be changing going forward.
On Sunday against the Browns, Bengals fans got their first extensive glimpse at Winston on the field. In fact, Winston was in on 45% of the offensive snaps, lining up for 33 plays. Most of his work was in the second half, and though the Bengals had a solid lead when he entered, the contest was far from over. There were also some "jumbo" packages with an extra tackle, where the Bengals lined Newhouse up next to Winston.
He did account for one illegal formation penalty, but Winston also helped the team's outstanding, 244-yard rushing performance. Many of Giovani Bernard's 79 rushing yards came in the second half, as well as some nice work from backup, Rex Burkhead.
Winston's play didn't go unnoticed, either, with Marvin Lewis praising him in Monday's press conference:
On RT: Winston hit ground running and up to speed quickly— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) December 15, 2014
Obviously, it plays to Winston's work ethic and character to not only be in good shape so late in the year, but also to be able to contribute at a pretty high level. He might not be Smith, but Winston will provide veteran leadership and stability at a position that looked bleak just a few short weeks ago.