Following the departure of 11-year veteran Andrew Whitworth to the Los Angeles Rams, the Bengals are experiencing a changing of the guard in the locker room on offense. Aside from the freshly returned Andre Smith, who spent a year away from the Bengals in 2016, the Bengals’ most experienced offensive veterans left on the team —who have spent their entire careers in Cincinnati — are A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, and Clint Boling.
Dalton, Green, and Boling were all drafted by the Bengals in the 2011 NFL Draft and all have been with the Bengals for their entire NFL careers. As time has progressed, the Bengals have been slowly shedding their veteran talent in favor of younger players with more to offer. As a result, these three players are in a position they have never encountered in their NFL careers so far. Dalton, in particular, is going to have plenty of new responsibilities as the expected vocal leader of the team. Dalton has really taken on a major leadership role on the team for at least the last two seasons, but with Whitworth gone, that becomes even more important and a bigger role to grasp.
“We’re going to miss the hell out of Andrew and everything he did. But we pass the torch,” Marvin Lewis said. “The quarterback has picked up the torch. Andrew has done everything he can with Andy (Dalton) all the time, and now it’s Andy’s football team totally. He’s got to pick it up and go.”
In addition to Dalton’s added leadership responsibilities, Boling and Green will be expected to step up as well. Following Whitworth’s departure, Boling’s expected role should be obvious. He is now the most senior member of the offensive line who spent his entire career with the Bengals and the line is now littered with young and inexperienced talent.
Guys like Christian Westerman and Alex Redmond weren’t around during Smith’s previous tenure with the team, making Boling the most senior member for whom they have a direct reference. Dalton is expected to take over Whitworth’s leadership role with the team as a whole, but Boling should be stepping up as the most prominent voice on the offensive line. With so much new, young talent on the offensive line and even more likely coming in April, Boling and the Bengals can’t afford to ignore the value of good leadership.
Traditionally, Green has been a player who prefers to keep his head down and lead by example. But, as one of the most experienced veterans remaining on the offense, it will be his responsibility to not only help Dalton and Boling lead the team, but also mentor younger guys at his position like Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, Alex Erickson, and James Wright.
Fellow wide receiver Brandon LaFell actually has one more year of NFL experience than Green, but 2017 will be only his second year with the Cincinnati Bengals. Still, he’s proven to be a great leader and that’s part of why he was brought back for 2017. He’s not only a great leader for the young guys, but for Green, too.
Ultimately, the Bengals are in the beginning stages of a youth movement this offseason. The team shed some of its oldest veterans in free agency and now 11 picks are at the team’s disposal in the upcoming NFL Draft. Guys like Dalton, Boling, and Green have known that their moment to step up and lead has been coming for a long time. Now, it’s finally here, and we’ll get to see how they handle the added responsibility.