The Cincinnati Bengals’ will have a new look to the offensive line come the start of the 2017 season.
For the first time in nearly a decade, Andrew Whitworth will not open the season as Cincinnati’s full-time left tackle. It wasn’t until the 2009 season that Whitworth became the team’s stalwart left tackle for good, a job he kept until leaving this offseason to sign with the Los Angeles Rams.
Replacing Whitworth will likely be Cedric Ogbuehi, a former first-round pick who has been very underwhelming through his first two NFL season. A big reason why he’s all but assured of this job is because there’s no real competition for him.
Last year, the backup left tackle for much of the season was Jake Fisher. However, Fisher became the starting right tackle as the year wore on, a spot he’s expected to retain this year.
Assuming Ogbuehi remains the starting left tackle, who will his backup be? That’s something the Bengals are still trying to figure out as offseason workouts have concluded, and this will remain a big question once training camp opens next month.
One under-the-radar candidate to take on the backup left tackle job is Trey Hopkins. The backup guard has moved all around the offensive line since joining the team as an undrafted free agent out of Texas in 2014. He’s had brief stints on the 53-man roster, but most of his career thus far has been spent developing on the practice squad.
“Yeah, the clock is definitely winding down,” Hopkins told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I’ve done every other thing but be on the roster for the whole year, so this is kind of it. This is the year where I make the decision whether I’m going to sink or swim.”
As Hopkins attempts to lock down his spot on the 53-man roster, he’s also vying for that key backup left tackle spot. He’s spent almost all of his pro career working on the interior, but he thinks he can move to the outside and make a positive impact.
“It feels good being able to show that I can do multiple things, and if that helps make the roster then that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day,” Hopkins said. “It’s really helped me because I understand the offense a lot more, having to see it from every different position...I’m excited. I think it creates opportunities for me.”
Being able to play that spot in addition to guard and center — where he’s been primarily competing for the past two years — is why offensive line coach Paul Alexander is comparing Hopkins to a former Bengals stud.
“Trey is our 2017 version of Dave Lapham, we call him ‘the tool’ – he plays ‘em all, he plays all five spots,” Alexander said. “It’s really amazing.”
Hopkins’ chances of making the final roster were already decent after Kevin Zeitler departed this offseason, leaving the potential for Hopkins to become the starting right guard. That’s less likely to happen now as Andre Smith was signed to take that job, though Smith has missed 20 games during the past three seasons, so he’s not a completely reliable option to make it through the full season.
And, based on Ogbuehi’s struggles as a starter last year, it’s not crazy to think Hopkins could start games at left tackle or right guard at some point this season. Hopkins is getting prepared for such a challenge and he’ll need to do well as this summer will likely determine his NFL future.