2016 was a rough year for the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line. In addition to giving up the seventh most sacks in the NFL (41), they contributed to the 20th ranked rushing attack in terms of yards per run (4.0). A lot of that was due to injuries and new faces making appearances, and while the line will have a new look in 2017, last year’s new new faces will be more experienced and better-prepared to make an impact. In fact, offensive coordinator Ken Zampese says Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher—those new faces—are already showing a lot of improvement.
“They're in good shape and they've got good attitudes,” Zampese told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “And that's the best thing we can have from them right now because we have a chance to accelerate the learning curve. Their eyes are wide open, they're energetic, they're enthusiastic about what we're doing. They're on the spot to produce, and they know it. And they're doing everything they can to make sure they come through for all of us.”
Ogbuehi and Fisher, the Bengals’ first and second round picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, attempted to fill the gap at right tackle, following the departure of Andre Smith to the Minnesota Vikings. Ogbuehi got the initial opportunity, starting the first 11 games of the season before he was inevitably benched. Eric Winston then started two games before Fisher started the final three games of the season.
Unfortunately, both Ogbuehi and Fisher struggled at the position, which contributed greatly to the offensive line’s overall ineffectiveness. But, so far in OTAs, both players have impressed the Bengals’ offensive coordinator. Offensive lineman impress by allowing few noticeable things to happen, which is exactly has happened so far this offseason.
“I don't notice them. That sounds terrible, but it's better than it sounds, I promise,” Zampese said. “Those guys are coming along. Coach (Paul) Alexander spends a lot of time with them on the pass sets and how they're handling the edge rushers. Each time we go out and face our defense we get better and better because they're good on the edge. The young defensive end gives us a really, really good look. Both of those young defensive ends.”
Holding off the young defensive ends, Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson, is certainly a good thing. But, there is a big difference between holding off young rookies who have never taken an NFL snap and competing against NFL veterans who have spent their career honing their skills against other professionals.
After losing two veterans along the offensive line during the offseason, the Bengals brought back an experienced veteran to help fill the void both on-the-field and in supporting the young guys. The Bengals parted ways with Andre Smith during the 2016 offseason, which contributed to many of the problems the offensive line faced, but they brought him back this offseason after he failed to stick in Minnesota. Zampese couldn’t be happier about his return.
“I just love when Andre's in our huddle. I'm not particularly concerned where he plays, as long as he's in our huddle,” Zampese said. “I really like him personally and I like his production. I like that he's done it before. And I like his 35-inch reach. (The reach is) kind of an added bonus. It's the sundae with the whipped cream and the cherry.”
In his first stint with the Bengals, Smith played the starting right tackle position. Now, Fisher appears to be poised to start at right tackle, while Smith is expected to fill the right guard position vacated by Kevin Zeitler. It will be a big transition for both the Bengals and Smith, but hopefully he can help the Bengals’ offensive line overall while the young guys grow up fast and develop into the players the Bengals hoped they would be during the 2015 NFL Draft.