One of the position groups we can be most confident in with the Bengals heading into the 2015 season is offensive line. The o-line has been more than a modicum of consistency, and the entire starting group is back this year. And, not only are all of the starters back, but the depth has been greatly improved through the draft. With that said, everyone’s favorite improvement may be the exile of human turnstile Marshall Newhouse who left in free agency to go to the New York Giants. Eli, if you are out there reading this, I am truly sorry if Mr. Newhouse has to do anything aside from keeping you hydrated on the sideline.
Back to the more important topic at hand, our offensive line. I think it is safe to say just about every Bengals fan is pretty dang happy with 4/5 of the offensive line. We have Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith as the two bookends who do exactly what you want your tackles to do. While Whitworth may not be a big mauler, his job is to keep Andy Dalton’s blindside protected, and he is one of the best in the business. Some might even say he is the very best in the business, and they would have a pretty good argument, considering he allowed zero sacks and nine pressures through all of last year. If you’re expecting any more than that from your left tackle, you better hope Godzilla is a free agent because that’s the only way you’re going to improve on those numbers.
When the Bengals run the ball, you can just about count on them running right, and for good reason. Andre Smith is your prototypical right side mauler. While Big Smitty may not have the phenomenal pass protection numbers Whitworth boasts, he makes up for it in the run game. There may be no one better on the Bengals o-line at opening up gaps for the talented backfield.
As good as Andre Smith is in the run game, there are two reasons why the Bengals like to run right. Kevin Zeitler is everything you could want at right guard. The fourth year man out of Wisconsin is just as devastating as Smith in the run game while being able to go toe-to-toe with the best interior pass rushers in the NFL. In 2014, he allowed nine pressures (the same as Whitworth) and one sack. Like I said with Whitworth – If you want to improve on those numbers, you better hope Godzilla is a free agent. Otherwise, the Bengals may just have the one of the best right guards in the NFL.
While Clint Boling may not be as noteworthy as the previously mention lineman, he is exactly the kind of guy you want rounding out your offensive line. The Bengals coaching staff and Mike Brown must agree with me, considering the Bengals signed Boling to a 5 year, $26 million deal this offseason. Boling earned a +4.1 grade from PFF last year. While his run blocking improved, earning a +1.5 grade or better in the run game in five of the Bengals’ last six games last year, his pass protection regressed slightly. If the 26-year-old can match his run blocking performance of last year with his pass blocking performances of previous years, the Bengals may be able to trot out the best guard duo every Sunday this year.
This leaves us with the most debated Bengals starter not named Andy Dalton: Russell Bodine. If you were a commenter on this site during the last season, chances are you had a discussion revolving around him at some point. The second year center is the only uncertainty amongst the starters, and that is mostly due to this being his sophomore campaign. While he struggled mightily in the preseason, there was certainly improvement throughout the season. Was it enough improvement to merit the Bengals trading up to draft him? Only time will tell. With a season under his belt, it’s hopeful he can take a step in the right direction this year. Being a rookie center is no easy feat, so you can count on things to look up for Bodine.
The big difference in this year’s offensive line and last year’s is the depth. This should come as no surprise after the Bengals selected two offensive tackles in the first two rounds of this year’s draft. While the chances of seeing Cedric Ogbuehi on the field this year are incredibly thin, Jake Fisher and Eric Winston give the Bengals quality reserves at both tackle positions. Fisher’s athleticism will allow him to fill in anywhere across the line if needed, and I would expect to see him as a tight end in heavy formations. 2015 also means Trey Hopkins will be back in the fold. His promising 2014 preseason was cut short by a leg injury, which sidelined him for all of the regular season as well. With a healthy Ogbuehi, the Bengals potentially have four starting quality offensive lineman backing up what may be the best starting 5 in the trenches in the NFL this year.