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Bengals Roster Reset 2016: State of the Tackles

From Big Whit in Year 11 to Cedric Ogbuehi in Year 2, this is a unit that should remain strong for the foreseeable future.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

There  many not be a team in the NFL with a better mix of battle-tested veterans and promising youngsters at offensive tackle than the Cincinnati Bengals.

Leading the way once again is left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who is entering his 11th tour of duty in the Queen City. After being drafted out of LSU in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft, Whitworth has gone from being a swing tackle and spot starter early in his career, to playing guard at a high level for several years, to now being arguably the best left tackle in football.

Whitworth started every game last season at left tackle and was a major contributor to Cincinnati ranking seventh in the NFL in scoring (26.2 points per game) in 2015. Whitworth also leads the Cincinnati roster in career games played as a Bengal (157) and starts (153).

But father time is breathing down the neck of the 34-year-old Whit (who turns 35 in December). That, combined with long-time starting right tackle leaving this offseason, sparked the Bengals to spend not one, but two top-53 picks on offensive tackles in the 2015 Draft.

Smith, as the team expected, departed this offseason to sign with the Minnesota Vikings to compete for one of their starting spots. Though he's played right tackle at a high level at various points during his career in Cincinnati, the former sixth-overall pick of the 2009 Draft clearly saw his play continuously drop off over the past two seasons.

It's no secret that Smith wasn't the best at keeping his weight, conditioning and overall health at the kind of level the Bengals hoped we would, which helped lead to them making little-to-no effort to bring him back this offseason after drafting Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake fisher in 2015.

Ogbuehi, the 21st-overall pick out of Texas A&M, had a rough entrance to the NFL after tearing his ACL during his final college game on Dec. 29, 2014. Despite many months of rehab ahead of him and with the expectation he would open the year on PUP, Ogbuehi was still taken in the first round of the draft.

That's how talented he is and how highly NFL teams viewed him, especially when it came to the Bengals. As a rookie, Ogbuehi opened training camp on the Non-Football Injury list (as his injury didn't occur in the NFL), where he would spend the first two months of the season before being cleared to practice on Nov. 10 and activated to the 53-man roster later in the month.

But with the Bengals already having Whitworth at left tackle and Smith on the right side, the rookie rarely saw the field during his first pro season. Ogbuehi played in 11 snaps in his NFL debut during a Week 13 win at Cleveland. His first snap came on Jeremy Hill's one-yard touchdown run.

At the end of the game, Ogbuehi took on the left tackle position, filling in for Whitworth. He also ended up getting snaps at right tackle and as a swing lineman in big formations as the season wore on, but never got significant snaps as the starters thankfully remained healthy all season.

When Ogbuehi did play, he showed flashes of becoming a capable blocker, but not enough so that he's a lock to be starting next season. He'll likely compete with Fisher for the starting right tackle spot with Smith gone.

Speaking of, Fisher also had a very interesting rookie season, though his journey was more centered around him playing multiple positions on offense. The No. 53 overall pick in 2015, Fisher started 13 games at left tackle during his final season in college while helping Oregon reach the College Football Playoff National Championship game.

But despite all of his accolades, Fisher fell to the Bengals at pick No. 53, even with Cincinnati already drafted Ced and having Whitworth and Smith at tackle. He ended up getting snaps at right tackle and as a swing lineman in jumbo 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. 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 came 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 as an h-back can be a valuable addition to this offense.

With Whit back in the fold and Hewitt having undergone offseason surgery, maybe Fisher can make an impact on next year's team at h-back. Fisher has also been working at center, but this is more likely to get him experience as a backup at as many offensive spots as possible.

But as far as his long-term future goes, Fisher is a tackle, and probably the left tackle when Whit calls it quits. Though it's uncertain exactly what will happen at the position this season and beyond.

Of all the Bengals' rookies from 2015, it might be hardest to project Fisher's 2016 outlook, but one thing is for sure: Expect him to see the field in 2016 a lot more.

As for the other backup tackle, Eric Winston is back in Cincinnati after being a quality backup for the Bengals since joining them midway through the 2014 season. Winston played in 13 games (2 starts) during the 2015 season after making four appearances (2 starts) in 2014.

The 32-year-old Winston also practiced at guard and is currently listed on the Bengals' roster as a guard, so his ability to play multiple spots along the line will only help his chances of making the roster again this year.

Here's our projection of how the Bengals' depth chart at tackle projects this year.

Starters: Cedric Ogbuehi, Andrew Whitworth

Backups: Eric Winston, Jake Fisher

Practice Squad Candidates: John Weidenaar, Aaron Epps

Wildcards: How much do Jake Fisher and Eric Winston play guard this summer in training camp and the preseason? If they play there a lot and do well, perhaps the Bengals list one or both of them as backup guards, which could help an undrafted free agent like Aaron Epps or John Weidenaar make the final roster.