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Bengals Offseason Positional Outlook: Offensive Line

We continue our offseason positional outlook by taking a look at a position group that enters the 2015 offseason with a lot of depth issues and almost certainly will account for one of the Bengals first two picks in this April's NFL Draft.

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Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

2014 Depth Chart

OT: Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith

G: Clint Boling, Kevin Zeitler

C: Russell Bodine

Backups: Marshall Newhouse, Mike Pollak, Tanner Hawkinson, T.J. Johnson, Eric Winston

PS: Trevor Robinson, Dan France

IR: Trey Hopkins (G)

2014 Recap:

Despite some shaky performances, the Bengals line finished third in sacks allowed (23), oversaw the sixth ranked rushing attack (134.2 YPG) and according to Pro Football Focus, were the third best line in terms of pass-blocking efficiency. Not bad for a line that started a rookie center for all 16 games and without their Pro-Bowl caliber right tackle for a large portion of the season.

2015 Outlook:

OTs: Andrew Whitworth (LT), Andre Smith (RT), Marshall Newhouse, Eric Winston, Tanner Hawkinson

Andrew Whitwoth - Whitworth had arguably his best season in a career full of good seasons. In 2014, Whitworth was one of two tackles to not allow a sack and he allowed four fewer pressures than any other offensive tackle in the NFL. However, at 33-years-old and entering the final year of his contract, the Bengals have to start preparing a replacement.

Andre Smith - Smith's season was cut short by a combination of injuries, but prior to the injuries, he was having one of his worst seasons as a pro. At 28-years-old and entering the final season of his contract, it's quite likely the Bengals will be drafting a replacement for Smith early in the 2015 draft. That being said, if the Bengals want to improve on their 2014 performance, they need Smith to return to his Pro Bowl caliber form.

Marshall Newhouse (UFA) - Folks in Green Bay were very happy to get rid of Marshall Newhouse. After Andre Smith went down, Bengals fans got to see why. Newhouse was incredibly ineffective, so much so that the Bengals signed Eric Winston off the street shortly after Smith went down.

Eric Winston (UFA) - Winston was brought in to take over for the ineffective Newhouse and despite spending the first 10 or so weeks of the NFL season on his couch, Winston came in and played admirably. It looks like there is mutual interest to re-sign Winston to a backup role in 2015.

Tanner Hawkinson - As a fifth round pick out of Kansas in 2013, the Bengals were high on Hawkinson; yet in two seasons, he has appeared in just four games. Clearly the Bengals are not comfortable with Hawkinson at tackle, otherwise they wouldn't have felt the need to sign Winston off the couch to replace the struggling Newhouse. If Hawkinson couldn't replace Newhouse, you'd have to wonder what his role is going forward on this team.

G: Clint Boling (LG), Kevin Zeitler (RG), Mike Pollak, T.J. Johnson

Clint Boling (UFA) - The surprising release of Mike Pollak tells me a number of things, one of which is that the Bengals intend to re-sign Boling. Boling is a solid starter and will get plenty of looks in free agency this year, but there is mutual interest in reaching a deal and as long as the Bengals can get him back at a reasonable price, I would expect him back.

Kevin Zeitler - Zeitler had another solid year at right guard and is proving to be another strong Bengals first round pick.

Mike Pollak (Released) - Pollak's release was surprising to me for a number of reasons: 1) he had a solid year 2) he was one year in to a three year contract 3) he entered the season competing for the starting center position 4) the timing - why release him now? Why not wait until after the draft? What his release tells me is his knee is worse than any of us were aware of,the Bengals will draft an offensive lineman in the first two rounds and  the Bengals are comfortable with guard Trey Hopkins and his recovery.

T.J. Johnson - In two years with the Bengals, Johnson has played in four games. Translation? He may make the team in 2015 or he may not. Nothing else to see here.

C: Russell Bodine - The Bengals rarely trade up in the draft, but they did so to snag Bodine in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. The Bengals were excited about Bodine going into the season, and hedidn't disappoint. Center is probably the second toughest position for a rookie and you couldn't have asked for more from a rookie center playing in a very tough division.

Outside Competition:

2015 OL Free Agency Outlook

I believe the Bengals will re-sign Boling and Winston, but I don't see themsigning any other free agent offensive lineman. While I would be interested in signing a versatile veteran like a Michael Oher to protect against Smith leaving, I don't see it happening and I believe the rest of the depth will come from the draft.

2015 OL Draft Outlook

I would be shocked if the Bengals do not take an offensive lineman in either the first or second round of the 2015 draft. While there don't appear to be any franchise left tackles in this draft, there are plenty of good players who can be solid tackles (left or right) or very good guards. I expect the Bengals to take a versatile lineman who can play both tackle and both guard positions and can be the heir to Whitworth or Smith.

General Roster Makeup: 9 on the 53-man roster; 1-2 on the practice squad

2015 Roster Prediction:

OL (9):   Starters: Andrew Whitworth, Clint Boling, Russell Bodine, Kevin Zeitler, Andre Smith

Backups: Eric Winston, Tanner Hawkinson, Free Agent, 1st/2nd Round Rookie

PS (2): 2 Rookies

2015 OL Stock Outlook:

Trending up. I believe the Bengals will return all five starters from what ended up being a solid line. With a healthy Smith (in a contract year) and Bodine with a full year under his belt, this is a line that should be a top five unit in 2015. The concern, as it was in 2014, will be depth. I believe the Bengals will have better players on the depth chart in 2015 (Hopkins and a high drafted rookie), but less experience.