It wasn't too long ago when the Bengals drafted not one, but two offensive tackles in the 2015 NFL draft.
The second came in the form of Oregon All-American tackle Jake Fisher in Round 2. However, with Andre Smith and Andrew Whitworth both locking down the tackle spots last year, Fisher rarely saw the field other than as an extra blocker who occasionally ran routes.
He ended up getting snaps at right tackle and as a swing lineman in big formations while also catching one pass for 31 yards vs the San Diego Chargers in Week 2.
All of this came before an injury to Ryan Hewitt forced Fisher to move to h-back in Week 17. While it's a small sample size, Fisher would play in 30 snaps over the final two games (Week 17 vs Baltimore and the Wild Card game vs Pittsburgh) as the Bengals rushed for an average of 118 yards (4.6 yards per rush) in those games.
145 of those yards on 27 carries came against the Ravens' 12th-ranked run defense, while 91 yards on 24 runs came vs the Steelers' fifth-ranked run defense. Considering the Bengals ran for an average of just 3.9 yards per game during the 2015 season, that may have shown that Fisher can be valuable addition to this offense if the right role is found for him.
But with Whit being back next season and it seeming like first round pick Cedric Ogbuehi is destined for the right tackle spot, maybe Fisher can make an impact on next year's team at the center position. According to Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson, Fisher has actually gotten some work at center this offseason.
It turns out Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander is looking at more than rookies to back up center after using six different centers this past weekend. Backup right tackle Jake Fisher is also snapping this offseason as the Bengals envision him being able to play all five line spots in a pinch.
"It’s like last year," Fisher said. "Whatever you can do to help the team."
Fisher won’t have to do what he did last year, when he switched his number from 74 to 44 to replace injured fullback Ryan Hewitt. But a 74 at center brings back memories. It was the number of Rich Braham, one of the best centers in club history who centered head coach Marvin Lewis’ first three teams and first division title.
Fisher, who was selected with the No. 53 overall pick, started 13 games at left tackle during his final season in college and helped Oregon reach the College Football Playoff National Championship game. Following his final season, Fisher was named a first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America.
Though he was viewed by many as a top-40 prospect and possible first-round pick, Fisher fell to the Bengals at pick No. 53, and though they had already taken Cedric Ogbuehi with the 21st pick, they couldn't resist taking the man they'd fallen in love with.
Now, the Bengals are faced with the issue of finding the best role for Fisher this coming season. If he is able to move to center, it shouldn't prove too challenging to overtake T.J. Johnson for the backup spot. That's probably what the Bengals envision after landing highly-touted guard Christian Westerman in the draft.
In order to keep Westerman and fellow backup Trey Hopkins behind starters Kevin Zeitler and Clint Boling, having Fisher able to be the backup left tackle and center could help the Bengals not be forced to keep Johnson in favor of better linemen like Hopkins and Westerman.
With Ogbuehi likely being the right tackle with veteran Eric Winston as his backup, that puts the Bengals at nine offensive linemen if Whitworth, Fisher, Hopkins, Westerman, Boling, Zeitler and Russell Bodine round out the line. That's how many linemen the Bengals have kept every year since 2006 other than last year when Cincy kept eight linemen.
In other words, the best way to have the best eight to nine offensive linemen on the final roster is by having guys like Fisher playing multiple positions, whether it's guard, tackle or center.
But don't expect Fisher to suddenly become an NFL-caliber center after not playing the position in college or the NFL to this point. Even if he spends the rest of the offseason there, I can't see him overtaking Bodine for the starting job, a role he's held for two years now and still has room to grow in. Maybe Fisher can become a center with a year or two of work there, but even that's hard to project.
And as far as his long-term future goes, Fisher is a tackle, and will probably take over left tackle when Whit calls it quits (or go to right tackle with Ogbuehi jumping to left). That doesn't make it any easier to project Fisher's 2016 outlook, but one thing is for sure: We should expect to see Fisher on the field in 2016 a lot more often.