Clint Boling has been dealing with a shoulder injury since Week 4’s Thursday Night Football game against the Miami Dolphins. That injury has led to him missing practice or being limited in practice on a weekly basis. But, up until now, Boling has not missed a game this season.
On a short, holiday week, the Bengals’ Wednesday practice was essentially a combination of their typical Wednesday and Thursday practices. And missing from said practice were a number of highly important starters, including Boling.
Now, Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson is hypothesizing that Boling may not play on Saturday in Houston after being a non-participant on Wednesday. And when Hobson says something like that, it’s coming from a good source.
Maybe 2015 first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi gets that start at left tackle after being benched in the 11th week of his experiment at right tackle and Pro Bowl first alternate left tackle Andrew Whitworth moves to left guard. That’s what happened when Boling tore his ACL heading into December of the 2013 season.
Furthermore, Hobson shared the news that Boling reportedly separated his shoulders in the game against Miami and has played through it all season. If you’ve thought Boling hasn’t been quite as dominant this season (which he hasn’t), that’s a good reason why.
Marvin Lewis claims he’s still coaching his team to win and won’t be experimenting with young players this weekend. But, if Boling is unable to practice, maybe he needs to take a week off, especially when that week features a game that means essentially nothing for the Bengals.
So, what if Hobson is correct and we see Ogbuehi at left tackle and Whitworth at left guard? My number one concern would be for Andy Dalton’s safety. Though, the Texans actually rank 29th in the league in sacks (24.0), so if there was a time to test out Ogbuehi on Dalton’s blind side, this could be it.
Playing Whitworth at guard could also be interesting to see as he’s approaching free agency in the forthcoming offseason. Whitworth has made it known he wants to be back in Cincinnati next season and he’s hoping (and assuming) the Bengals feel the same way.
“I think they want me back,” Whitworth said after Wednesday’s practice. “But I’ve been in the league long enough to know you never know what the heck goes on. I hope I’ll be back, I know I want to be back. … I believe both things, that I want to be back and they want me to be back, and hopefully we can find a way to make that work.”
One of the ways it could work is if Whitworth moves to guard and Ogbuehi plays left tackle. The Bengals still view Ogbuehi as the future at left tackle and hope that another offseason of hard work can help mold him into the player they believed he was when they drafted him in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Ogbuehi was terrible at right tackle throughout the first 10 weeks of the NFL season and eventually lost that job, moving to left tackle, as the backup to Whitworth.
Whitworth did practice at left guard on Wednesday with Boling not in attendance. "It's not that unnatural," Whitworth said via Local 12. "I just do whatever is needed."
Whitworth is currently the No. 2 rated offensive tackle by Pro Football Focus and the clear best player on the Bengals’ offensive line. The Bengals should do whatever they can to get him back in the fold next season. If Ogbuehi doesn’t develop as planned, he can continue at left tackle, but if Ogbuehi does progress, then maybe Whitworth could play guard. Right guard Kevin Zeitler is also set to hit free agency in the upcoming offseason and we should expect he’ll demand a sizable contract on the open market, similar to what David DeCastro signed with the Steelers last offseason.
DeCastro’s deal is five-years for $50,000,000, including a $16,000,000 signing bonus, and an average annual salary of $10,000,000. That’s a lot of money and it’s unclear if the Bengals intend to pay up for Zeitler.
Could we see a look at the future on Saturday in Houston should Boling sit out? If he does, rookie Christian Westerman could also be active for his first NFL game.