Losing Andrew Whitworth was a huge blow for the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line. The three-time Pro Bowler held down a left tackle position that was one of the only bright spots on the offensive line in 2016. Unfortunately, he made the decision to sign with the Los Angeles Rams this offseason, leaving the Bengals with a substantial issue in finding his replacement.
However, Whitworth’s eventual departure was exactly why the Bengals selected Cedric Ogbuehi with the No. 21 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He was essentially brought in as an insurance policy at left tackle for the aging Whitworth. The Bengals knew Whitworth wasn’t going to be around forever, so bringing in a young player who could fill the role made sense. His development so far has been slow, but he feels there’s no doubt left tackle is the position he is the most comfortable in and the Bengals plan to play him there in 2017.
“It’s exciting, it’s fun playing left tackle,” Ogbuehi said in an interview with Bengals.com. “It’s the place I love to be, I’m excited to go out there and just play.”
That said, being excited to take over at starting left tackle and being ready to do it are two entirely different things. The Bengals attempted to throw Ogbuehi in as the starting right tackle in 2016 and the results were abysmal. Even he will admit he still has plenty to work on.
“We all can get better at everything,” Ogbuehi said. ”Me - technique, footwork, just really everything.”
Granted, if left tackle is truly Ogbuehi’s best position, throwing him in at right tackle may have been an experiment doomed to fail in the first place. It is difficult to force a player to make such a stark positional change that involves switching his technique to the other side of his body, then putting him up against some of the best edge rushers in the NFL. Luckily, he is staying positive about his continued development and certainly sounds like a player who is committing to the process.
“I think every day I’m getting better,” Ogbuehi said. “I’m learning something every day, I’m slowing down and getting as many reps as possible. That’s good.”
The Bengals are taking a significant gamble by trusting Ogbuehi to replace Whitworth. If things work out at the position, it could be one of the best decisions they have made in a long time, with a seamless transition between generations at a crucial position. But, if Ogbuehi continues to struggle at left tackle as he did at right tackle in 2016, the Bengals will look even more foolish for letting Whitworth walk in the offseason.
“It’s going to be different this time around,” Ogbuehi said. “The past five years, it’s been one guy in and out. It’s been the same group of guys for the most part. So, it’s a bunch of new guys, old guys, a mixture of guys, so it’s going to be fun for us to come together and be a great o-line.”
Ogbuehi has yet to convince the coaches —and fans— that he was worthy of the first round selection the Bengals used on him. But, there is no point in continuing to play him in alternative roles as he enters his third season in the NFL. He was brought in to play left tackle and the transitional process is somewhat overdue. The time is now to see if Ogbuehi is up for the challenge of playing left tackle.
Ogbuehi’s rookie contract runs out after 2019, due to his fifth-year option. It makes sense for the Bengals to test him out as much as possible at left tackle before deciding if he will make it through that 2018 season and beyond. The Bengals are truly taking a gamble on the Whitworth-Ogbuehi transition and as fans, the best thing to do is believe that the gamble will pay off. Come Week 1, we’ll start to find out the truth about Ogbuehi’s NFL potential and whether the issue last season really was just the right tackle position.