The Bengals’ offensive line is going through major changes this offseason, with Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth moving to Los Angeles to sign with the Rams and former first round pick Kevin Zeitler moving to Cleveland to sign with the Browns. Luckily, the Bengals were able to retain rotational offensive tackle Eric Winston to help with the transition. This offseason seems like it will create more problems for the offensive line than solutions, but at least there will be some semblance of continuity.
“We’ve had really good continuity since I’ve been here playing with the same guys and not every team has that,” Andy Dalton told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “For us it’s going to be a new way of doing things with the new guys. It’s just the business of the league. You see it with our guys. They got contracts they deserve. The same goals are in mind. Win as many games as you can, win the Super Bowl. There are just different guys doing it.”
It might seem like the Bengals are only taking steps backward, parting ways with the only two consistently good members of their offensive line. But, with 11 draft picks in 2017 and plenty of young talent already present on the offensive line, a face lift could be exactly what the team needs.
“We feel like we’ve got talent,” Dalton said. “It’s one of those things it’s going to be Ced (Cedric Ogbuehi) and it’s going to be Fish (Jake Fisher) and there is going be a lot expected from them this year. I’m not going to say it’s rebuilding. But we feel like those guys are very talented and we just have to put it all together.”
The Bengals have the good fortune of selecting No. 9 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, with a total of 11 picks to play with. That means any of the best offensive tackles, guards, and even centers in the draft are a realistic target for the Bengals. Unfortunately, making up for the leadership and production of both Whitworth and Zeitler is going to be very difficult.
“We’re going to have to figure it out,” Dalton said. “Those are big shoes to fill. Whit arguably has been the best tackle in the NFL for a while. Guys are going to have to step up and play because obviously that’s a big piece of what we do.”
Whitworth, in particular, is a player whom the Bengals and their fans are going to miss. He has given his entire 11-year career to the Bengals and has done nothing but stay focused, mentor his teammates, and contribute as an outstanding member of the community. His role as one of the team’s foremost leaders is going to be hard to replace, but it helps to have plenty of his proteges on the team, ready to step up in his absence. After all, the point of drafting Ogbuehi and Fisher was for them to take over when Andre Smith and Whitworth left the team
“Whit’s been such a great teammate great leader, great person, great friend … More is going to be asked of me, more is going to be asked of other guys,” Dalton said. “It’s just not a playing role, but it’s also being a leader of the team. It may not be one guy; it may be multiple guys stepping up in that role.”
Losing Whitworth and Zeitler’s presence as leaders and elite blockers will be difficult. But, you have to take the training wheels off at some point. The hope was that the Bengals would, at least, be able to retain one of their top linemen, but now it is time for others to step up.
“Guys have to play to their potential and just keep improving,” Dalton said. “That’s all we can ask for right now. In OTAs and training camp those guys are going to get the chance to prove themselves … We’ve got talent.”
With young talent like Ogbuehi, Fisher, and Christian Westerman as well as veterans like Russell Bodine, Clint Boling and Eric Winston still on the offensive line, there is a chance that the Bengals need to only add depth in the draft, rather than looking for new starters. It will be a key area of need in this year’s draft, regardless, but the hope is that the need will not be as dire as it might seem right now.
“There’s no panic on my end,” Dalton said. “I feel like we’ve got a lot of talent. We just have to put it all together.”