With the beginning of the NFL offseason workouts here, there’s not much Cincinnati Bengals news to talk about, but, there is a lot to speculate over. We’ve already discussed why this draft class will get the Bengals over the hump and hopefully help achieve a couple of Super Bowls in the coming seasons. Other than that it’s been very quiet. But if you’re tired of watching Bronson Arroyo give up home run after home run, there’s always more football waiting for us here. Let’s try to convince you of why these five not-so-crazy (though, somewhat crazy) predictions actually make sense for the upcoming season.
Andre Smith will start at left tackle and T.J. Johnson will start at right guard
It’s probably way too early to call former first round pick Cedric Ogbuehi a bust, but he clearly hasn’t earned a starting spot on the team, much less on Andy Dalton’s blind spot. After sticking with Domata Peko and Rey Maualuga while young and promising players sat on the bench, the Bengals were quick to do the opposite while handing Andrew Whitworth’s role to Ogbuehi, without any competition. And, to be fair, there isn’t much of an option for competition on the current roster. Eric Winston? Meh. Jake Fisher? Then who plays right tackle?
Then the Bengals signed Andre Smith, only to change his position to guard. He missed pretty much all of the 2016 season and was inconsistent (at best) in the games he played. Still, he’s probably better than Ogbuehi at this point. With the potential on offense to rack up points with an outstanding collection of talent among the skill positions, the Bengals can’t let the offensive line sink.
If Smith switches back outside the Bengals can justify the money they gave Johnson in the offseason by playing him at right guard. Drafted as a center, he wasn’t much worse than Russell Bodine when he had to play, but was also deployed at left guard when Clint Boling was down and fared well. It was interesting that with the season lost in 2016, the Bengals gave Johnson a start in Week 17 instead of Christian Westerman, who they drafted in the fifth round in 2016. He was likely picked as the eventual replacement for Kevin Zeitler, but has yet to see the field.
Alex Erickson will make the team over Cody Core
The Bengals had six receivers on the roster last season, and will probably carry just as many in 2017, even if they’re saying now they’re aiming to roster seven. A.J. Green, John Ross, Tyler Boyd, Brandon LaFell and Josh Malone are essentially locks, and Erickson, Core and maybe Jake Kumerow are fighting for the sixth spot. Cincinnati is very reluctant to part ways with recent draftees, but they waived P.J. Dawson last season and with the practice squad expanded to 10 players they might be more willing to do more of the same.
Erickson’s primary value was in the return game, providing a spark we hadn’t seen in some time. After years of standing by Brandon Tate, it was fresh and a welcomed sight. The Bengals, though, added special team standout Brandon Wilson in the sixth round of the draft out of Houston, and he could push for Erickson’s role as a special teamer. But, Core didn’t show much last season, and had the chance to do it with Green out with injury late in the season. He can still become a special player, but Erickson is this type of fan favorite who may very well outwork Core for the spot. Wide receiver should be a great position battle to watch this summer as the receivers try to push the Bengals to keep more players at the position than normal.
DeShawn Williams is going to be a contributor... elsewhere
Cincinnati added a nose tackle in the draft in Ryan Glasgow and will also get Andrew Billings and Marcus Hardison back from injury, making for a crowded back-end of the defensive tackle depth chart. In the playing time DeShawn Williams received in 2016, he looked good and he quickly notched his place among the stat sheet. Williams already turned down a job with the Saints during his rookie season to stay on the Bengals’ practice squad, but if the Bengals aren’t able to find playing time for Williams this year, he could end up on another team’s roster.
Both Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson can play nickel tackle, and Wallace Gilberry may be kept around over Williams to mentor those guys. Williams will also need to knock Pat Sims out of his job to stick around.
Russell Bodine will get an extension
Cincinnati likes to save money in the offseason so they can extend their guys slated to be free agents the following spring. Bodine is one of them, and despite the addition of Utah’s J.J. Dielman in the fifth round of the draft, Bodine is pretty likely to stick around in Cincinnati. Don’t be surprised to see him extended before the 2018 offseason.
Michael Johnson will keep his starting role
Drafting Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson likely won’t have an impact on Michael Johnson remaining a starter, at least in 2017. The Bengals are known for sticking by their underperforming veterans. How long did it take them to say goodbye to Maualuga?
Johnson is nowhere near the level at which he displayed in his prime. His ability to turn the corner has waned and he’s one of the reasons why Carlos Dunlap took a step back last season. With a faster option on the opposite side, Dunlap would be a double-digit sack machine instead of a solid seven-to-eight sack a season guy. Willis and Lawson may take snaps away from Johnson, but, the long-time veteran is unlikely to lose his starting role.