Injuries and setbacks have been familiar territory for the Bengals’ offensive line this offseason and preseason. In the wake of injuries to Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, it has become clear that the Bengals will need their backups to step up, if only for a little while.
On Sunday, the Bengals saw a good performance from backup right tackle, Eric Winston, who was starting due to the abovementioned injuries. That said, it wasn’t a good performance at all for any of the offensive linemen after the starters went off the field. Backup center T.J. Johnson played decently, other than a bad snap, but left the game early to be evaluated for a concussion.
After that point, the offensive line looked pathetic, allowing backup quarterback AJ McCarron to be sacked twice and helping backup running backs Cedric Peerman, Bronson Hill, and Tra Carson to combine for an abysmal 0.07 yards per carry.
By contrast, the starting offensive line looked really good. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard combined for a much better 4.3 yards per run behind fantastic blocks from Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler. Even Russell Bodine had a good day! Before the backups went in, the Bengals jumped ahead to a 14-3 score that grew to 21-3 after another touchdown from standout undrafted rookie Alex Erickson. It looked like they had the game virtually wrapped up, until the backups reminded everyone of how the offensive line looked in the early 90s.
If you’re only looking at the game on Sunday as an example, it might be tempting to want to cut every backup offensive lineman and start from scratch. But, they haven’t been nearly that bad for the rest of the preseason. So, as of right now, here is how the roster battles appear to be shaping up.
Starter: Andrew Whitworth
Backup: Jake Fisher
Practice squad: John Weidenaar
This one is really a no-brainer. Weidenaar doesn’t have a good chance to make the roster with a Pro Bowler in Whitworth and former second round draft pick Fisher taking up spots. He’s a hopeful candidate for the practice squad.
Starter: Clint Boling
Backup: Trey Hopkins
Cut: Alex Redmond
Of all the backup offensive linemen, Redmond probably looked the least awful on Sunday. As a whole, it has been a decent preseason for the young lineman out of UCLA. But, despite playing poorly against the Jaguars, Hopkins has been one of the most talked about backup offensive linemen of the offseason. Therefore, there isn’t much of a place for Redmond at this position, or even on the practice squad due to the versatility of other players. It’s not even a given that Hopkins makes the roster.
Starter: Russell Bodine
Backup: T.J. Johnson
Cut: Alex Cooper
Cooper looked lost on Sunday. The versatile offensive linemen out of the University of Houston hasn’t really given the Bengals much reason to pay attention to him this offseason. But, an awful performance against the Jaguars may have sealed his fate. By contrast, starting center Bodine looked uncharacteristically impressive on Sunday, while Johnson looked good before leaving under the concussion protocol.
Starter: Kevin Zeitler
Backup: Christian Westerman
Practice squad: Trip Thurman
Speaking of looking lost, Thurman had a rough day on Sunday. He was asked to play at center for part of the game due to Johnson’s injury. His poor play was a big reason why the Jaguars’ defensive line was able to get so much pressure on the Bengals’ entire offense. But, Thurman offers an element of versatility that no other fringe lineman brings to the table; that likely won’t be enough for the Bengals to even consider him for the final roster. But, they may want to try to develop him as a versatile backup for multiple positions. Back to those making the roster, Westerman, the Bengals’ fifth round rookie has looked generally good in the preseason and will make the final roster.
Starter: Cedric Ogbuehi
Backup: Eric Winston
Cut: Aaron Epps
Despite Ogbuehi’s toe injury, there’s a good chance that he’ll be starting in Week 1 when the Bengals travel to New York to play the Jets. But, for right now, Winston is starting and did a pretty good job of it on Sunday. By contrast, Epps did not look good at all and hasn’t really shown any reason why he should stick around. The Bengals desperately need offensive line depth for Thursday’s game, but Epps will likely be cut on Saturday.