The Bengals have a leadership shakeup underway.
Gone is Andrew Whitworth, who’s been arguably the team’s biggest leader for much of the past decade. His play on the field and voice off of it was the backbone of five-consecutive playoff berths. It will be a strange sight when the Bengals take the field without No. 77 for the first time since the 2006 NFL Draft after he signed with the Rams this year.
From that same draft came Domata Peko, and he too is gone after signing with the Broncos this offseason. Peko’s play on the field was hit and miss, but there’s no denying his leadership off of it. He was one of the Bengals defense’s biggest leaders for the past decade, and replacing his leadership won’t be easy.
A.J. Green is confident he and his teammates can become the leaders they need to be with the changing of the guard. Green is actually pointing to the 2011 draft as the class that will guide this franchise going forward. That was the class that laid the foundation for five-straight playoff berths, which came in large part because of Green and quarterback Andy Dalton in back-to-back rounds. In fact, Green, Dalton and fellow 2011 draft class member Clint Boling are the longest-tenured Bengals on offense (who have spent their entire careers in Cincinnati). Andre Smith is actually the longest-tenured Bengal, but, he spent one year in Minnesota and has since returned.
Dalton has become a bigger leader every year in Cincinnati, and now it’s up to Green to do the same.
“The 2011 class is going to be the leaders around here,” Green said. “I feel like we've still got to be more vocal for some of the young guys. I think we're ready to step up. Clint's one of the leaders in the offensive line room, then Andy and I being the leaders of this offense, I feel like we're going to have to step up to be more vocal … That's one thing, we always draft well, and having Clint and Andy, I feel like we'll be great leaders.
With Whitworth gone, Green expects another lineman to step up in the leadership department, too. It actually is a fellow Georgia alum in Boling, who probably is the team’s best lineman now, so he’s ready to lead by example.
“Clint leads by example. He can get vocal when he needs to be,” Green said. “For the offensive line at Georgia? Yeah. He was definitely like a Whit.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge Green and Boling will face is getting Joe Mixon acclimated to life in the NFL. One of the most scrutinized prospects in this year’s NFL Draft will now look to begin a pro career that will be sharply under a microscope.
Green doesn’t condone what Mixon did in college, but the veteran doesn’t want to see the rookie defined by it either.
“I’m a God-fearing guy and I feel like everybody deserves a second chance. I don't condone what he's done. He can't take that back,” Green said. “I know he would like to. I feel like the Christian man in me, with my faith, that's the Christian way to do. I'm going to give the guy a chance. You don't look upon somebody, you help them. I feel like bringing him into the locker room with Andy and I being the leaders of the offense will really help him.”
Green already sounds like he’s ready for a bigger leadership role than he’s ever had. He’s certainly got his work cut out for him between shielding Mixon, leading this offense and helping the Bengals rebound from their worst season since his arrival. He should be ready for the challenge.