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Marvin Lewis counting on young Bengals to replace departed starters

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Jake Fisher is expected to take on a full-time starting role this season and it sounds like Andrew Billings is, too.

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

A changing of the guard is taking place in Cincinnati.

Gone are long-time starters Andrew Whitworth, Domata Peko and Rey Maualuga. Those three have held major roles on this team for many years now, but now that they’re gone, it’s time for the young guns to step up.

At least, that’s what Marvin Lewis is hoping as he enters a critical 2017 season for himself, as well as the core of this roster. One player who will be integral in this is embattled tackle Cedric Ogbuehi.

A lot will be riding on the 2015 first-round draft pick this year after Whitworth left, leaving the the left tackle spot open for the first time in a decade. Lewis is counting on Ogbuehi to rebound from a disastrous 2016 season and take on a starting role once again next season.

“Everybody has an opinion of Ced. Ced just has to be Ced, come back and play football,” Lewis told Bengals.com.

“I don’t buy all that,” Lewis said regarding the notion that Ogbuehi is better suited for left tackle than right. “That’s what (Ogbuehi) said. I think he’s got to become a player. He’s got to spend the time. It’s the first time he’s had an offseason where he can work and go through the whole regimen and hopefully a whole training camp.”

Ogbuehi isn't the only young lineman who is expected to start on the offensive line this season. Jake Fisher is expected to start on the other end of the offensive line in 2017 at right tackle. Fisher showed more promise last year at right tackle than anything we’ve seen from Ogbuehi, making it appear like he’s the Bengals’ best option at the position at this time.

But for the Bengals to be successful in 2017, both tackles will need to step up and play well in the big roles they’re expected to have. It does help, however, that veteran tackle Andre Smith is back in Cincinnati, though he’s expected to challenge for the starting right guard spot, leaving Fisher and Ogbuehi to be the starting tackles.

“We just have the belief in the two young guys at tackle,” Lewis said. “We thought that was the best thing to bring Andre back and have the opportunity at guard to see what happens. Eventually we are going to get the best five guys out there any way. We want to have a starting point. That is where we penciled in. He’ll compete with Westerman and Redmond and so forth and see who ends up being the best players.”

Another starting spot up for grabs is on the opposite side of the trenches, where Domata Peko’s nose tackle spot if available for the taking after he left Cincinnati to sign with Denver. Per Lewis, the belief is that Andrew Billings can win that job after missing all of his rookie season with a torn meniscus.

But is also helps that the Bengals have Marcus Hardison and Brandon Thompson who also look to play big roles at defensive tackle next season.

“We drafted Andrew Billings last year to step in and play (nose tackle),” said Lewis. “Marcus Hardison two years ago. Brandon Thompson (five) years ago. We’ve got young guys we feel really good about … It’s a group that has a lot of players and in a month we’ll have the draft to supplement that.”

The only other true nose tackle on the roster is Pat Sims, and he’s only under contract for one more season, though he’s been more of a rotational guy for most of his career. That’s why the Bengals are banking on Billings to be a workhorse like Peko was for so many years, and hopefully be an upgrade at the position.

We should expect Fisher, Ogbuehi and Billings to all be starting in Week 1 when the 2017 season begins, at least if Lewis’ comments are any indication.