The Bengals’ offensive guard position received a huge blow this offseason with the news of right guard Kevin Zeitler’s departure to the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals now have a huge hole in the starting lineup, so it will be interesting to see how things pan out from here. However, the Bengals appear to have a plan in place for both guard positions, which includes Clint Boling returning to the left guard position as the most experienced member of the offensive line.
The Bengals’ immediate plan at right guard appears to be giving the starting spot to returning veteran Andre Smith. He has spent his entire career at right tackle, but after moving from Cincinnati to Minnesota in 2016 and failing to make an impact with his new team, a position change makes sense for the aging player. That is especially true after the Bengals lost Zeitler, a veteran presence at the position. There are no guarantees for the starting spot at the position, but Smith is the early favorite.
“We don’t exactly know,” offensive line coach Paul Alexander told Jim Owczarski of Cincinnati.com of who will have the job. “Andre’s working in there with the first group right now and I anticipate it’s going to go well for him, but we’ve got other guys that are doing well too. It’s a competitive thing and we’ll see how that goes.”
Behind Smith, the Bengals appear to be grooming Christian Westerman, a talented developmental prospect the Bengals took a chance on in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Despite having most of the tools to be a successful NFL guard, his play strength has been a major source of concern, and a big reason why he hasn’t seen much playing time yet.
“I understand that that process sucks but I also understand that I redshirted and then I ended up being a guy a couple years later getting drafted,” Westerman said. “My point here is, we’ll call it a redshirt year my first NFL year and in a couple years I’m hoping to be one of the best, top guys, top guards.”
The Bengals are expected to continue starting seven-year veteran Clint Boling at left guard. Unfortunately, he is still recovering from shoulder surgery he received in Week 17 of last season, though, he’s expected to be ready for training camp. Still his presence will be missed on the practice field during OTAs, with so many new faces in need of veteran leadership.
“To be honest with you, we’re going to have so many new guys in there that I kind of wish Clint was in there,” Alexander said through that slight smile. “This is like a makeover.”
Behind Boling, the Bengals have formerly undrafted players in Trey Hopkins and Alex Redmond. Both players have spent time on the practice squad and, while Hopkins was eventually promoted to the 53-man roster in Week 17 of the 2016 season, Redmond is still looking for that first opportunity.
“I need to know everything. Because if not I’m putting myself at a disadvantage,” Redmond said. So this year before I’m trying to make sure that’s not a thing. I’ve been in my playbook every day, every night. Just patiently waiting my time.”
The Bengals signed two rookie guards after the draft in Kent Perkins and Dustin Stanton. The team lists their positions as both guard and tackle and they can help supplement some of the depth problems at both positions until they find their best fit. Both players are talented and should have a legitimate window for making the final roster, due to the Bengals’ open race at guard.
In addition to the two undrafted free agents, the Bengals already have an experienced, though rarely used option at offensive guard in T.J. Johnson. He has been serving as Russell Bodine’s backup at the center position, but with the selection of J.J. Dielman in the draft, it is possible he could be brought in as a fill-in option at guard.
“Who knows what’s going to happen,” Johnson said. “I’m going to let the cards fall where they are. I’m just going to come in and give it everything I got and we’ll see what happens.”
Ultimately, the Bengals are going to roster the players who give them the best chance of winning. The next four months will hopefully determine who those players are.