The Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line was ranked among the best in the NFL in 2015. The unit only allowed 32 total sacks (ninth best in the NFL) and sported the 13th best rushing attack in the NFL (112.8 yards per game). However, things took a bad turn in 2016 as sack numbers went up (41) and rushing effectiveness went down (110.6 yards per game). For better and worse, the Bengals made some significant changes to the offensive tackle position this offseason, and there are major questions remaining to be answered. Let’s take a look at how the offensive tackle unit has changed.
Andrew Whitworth was the best offensive linemen on the team, regardless of position last season. He reached his third Pro Bowl appearance as a result of consistently good blocking on the left edge and a certain level of versatility the Bengals loved. He started Week 16 at left guard, in place of Clint Boling, a position he has played from time to time throughout his career. Despite the Bengals’ overall disappointing results on offensive line in 2016, Whitworth made a positive impact and definitely helped prevent things from being worse than they already were. Here’s all you need to know about how dominant Whitworth was in 2016:
New Rams T Andrew Whitworth stood out among the NFL's top tackles in 2016. Only 4 allowed 20 or less pressures on 450+ pass block snaps. pic.twitter.com/BXMLL01Igh— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 15, 2017
Status: On the Los Angeles Rams
In his second season with the team, Ogbuehi saw the field for 14 games and started 12 of them. It was exciting at first for the Bengals and their fans to see the former first round draft pick take the field, but it became extremely disappointing when he regularly struggled to perform remotely well at right tackle. On more than one occasion, he was benched during the season for a failure to protect the quarterback, open up holes for running backs, or even keep defenders in check. Eventually, he was benched for good. All in all, it was a rough season for the young tackle.
Status: Still on the team.
Fisher saw less playing time in 2016 than Ogbuehi. While he did play in more games (15), he only saw three starts, which primarily came as a result of Ogbuehi getting benched. Overall, he performed somewhat better than Ogbuehi when he played at right tackle, but it wasn’t enough to keep the questions at the position at bay. His most notable moment of the season came on a 12 yard pass from Andy Dalton against the Eagles in the fourth quarter. He fumbled the ball, while acting as a receiver. The Bengals were playing so well in that particular game it didn’t make much difference, but, was representative of the Bengals’ offensive line last season. Overall, his impact in 2016 was very similar to that fumble - negligible.
Status: Still on the team.
The Bengals’ veteran backup tackle showed up to save the day on multiple occasions in 2016, even starting two games. Granted, his performances also left plenty to be desired at the position. His presence in the lineup did not mask all of the problems with the position, let alone the offensive line, but he was the best option the Bengals had at right tackle in 2016. He was brought back this offseason to help stabilize and guide the group in 2017.
Status: Still on the team
Whitworth signed by the Rams
One of the biggest blows of the Bengals’ 2017 offseason was the loss of Whitworth, a locker room leader and Pro Bowl offensive tackle. He has been one of the Bengals’ staples on offense for so long, seeing him go was a major disappointment for the Bengals and their fans. He was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise abysmal offensive line and it will be very difficult to replace going forward...
Ogbuehi moved to left tackle and Fisher to right tackle
The Bengals’ replacement plan for Whitworth is Ogbuehi. At first glance, that seems like a terrible idea considering how poorly he performed in 2016. But, Ogbuehi says he’s more confident in his ability to play left tackle, and now he has a shot to prove it. Hopefully, putting him at left tackle will allow him to thrive and become the player the Bengals expected him to be when they made him the No. 21 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. On the other side of the line, Fisher is expected to take on the starting role at right tackle. That leaves the bookends of the line with major questions and a lot of responsibility.
Andre Smith brought back from Minnesota
After a year with the Vikings, Smith is back and expected to be moved inside to help fill in at right guard. This, after the departure of Kevin Zeitler, the Bengals’ second best offensive lineman last season. It would be silly to overlook his potential to help out at right tackle if the position continues to struggle. Due to his experience playing the position for a long time, he could be a useful option at the position if Fisher doesn’t pan out and Winston is unable to pick up the slack.
Failing to re-sign your top offensive tackle from 2016 and planning to replace him with your worst offensive tackle from 2016 is a questionable strategy, at best. If the Bengals are right to believe Ogbuehi will perform much better at his natural position on the left side, the youth transition could prove to be the right plan. After all, clinging to an aging veteran like Whitworth doesn’t make much sense when a young former first round talent like Ogbuehi is sitting around, waiting to take the reigns and repay the team for all their faith.
However, if the transition at tackle doesn’t work out, 2017 could be a brutal year for the Bengals’ quarterback position, and another unproductive one for the running game.