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Cameron Lee has right mindset to help Bengals’ offensive line

Can Lee prove himself to be more than a training camp body in Cincinnati?

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NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone knows by now what the rest of the football world thinks of the state of the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line. Pro Football Focus recently ranked it as the second worst unit in the league, ahead of only the Seattle Seahawks’ line.

Despite the perception, Bengals’ coaches and players remain optimistic they can turn a perceived weakness into a strength this season.

“(The line is) not a concern,” Coach Marvin Lewis told Geoff Hobson of earlier this offseason. “We know all areas of our team, particularly the offensive group, have to do a better job of protecting our quarterback and that comes from every person and every position group on the offense,” Lewis said. “(Protecting the passer) is always a priority. It’s never changed. It just doesn’t fall on the line. It falls on everybody.”

Quarterback Andy Dalton has echoed those sentiments, even though it is he who will be on the turf often if the line doesn’t perform up to par.

“We feel like we’ve got talent,” Dalton said. “It’s one of those things it’s going to be Ced (Cedric Ogbuehi) and it’s going to be Fish (Jake Fisher) and there is going be a lot expected from them this year. I’m not going to say it’s rebuilding. But we feel like those guys are very talented and we just have to put it all together.”

This week, Cincinnati took another step in fortifying its offensive line by signing former Illinois State guard Cameron Lee, who was recently released by the New Orleans Saints.

Lee, who stands 6’4” and weighs 312 pounds, was named by as the 14th best guard entering the 2017 NFL Draft. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report tabbed him as 12th best and predicted him to go as early as the sixth round of the draft.

A two-year starter at FCS school Illinois State, Lee boasts the diversity the Bengals so crave. He played both guard and tackle in college and proved to be a tough, physical blocker. Although he is not very athletic, he has a high football IQ. And, he is used to being overlooked.

Despite his impressive size, no FBS program showed any interest in Lee, and he did not take any official college recruiting visits. He made unofficial visits to Illinois State and Indiana State while in high school, but received no scholarship offers. He ended up at Illinois State as a walk-on.

"I've always considered myself an underdog and had a chip on my shoulder,” Lee told the Champaign News-Gazette. “I've just had that mindset that no one can outwork me and no one can tell me what I can or cannot do."

What Lee did do was work his way up from walk-on to starter. He started the final 25 consecutive games of his college career and was an All-Missouri Valley Football Conference Honorable Mention selection in 2016. He was named MVFC Offensive Lineman of the week after a standout performance in a win against Northwestern.

And what Lee also did was catch the eye of former NFL and college coach Al Groh, who was a broadcaster for ESPN in an FCS playoff game between Illinois State and Richmond in December of 2015. Groh pulled Lee aside, put his finger in his chest and said, “You know what, Cam, you have NFL movement and you're an NFL player. You learn how to finish, you'll be a special, special guy and you'll play 10 years in the league."

Lee went undrafted and was eventually signed to a free agent contract by the New Orleans Saints. The Saints ended up cutting Lee shortly after, which paved way for him to join the Bengals.

Lee is stepping into an ideal situation with the Bengals, who lost their starting right guard to free agency and have pencilled in former first-round selection Andre Smith, who has not played the position since junior high school, as the starter.

But don’t count Lee out. Because he has not - and will not.

"At this point, I can't predict the future,” Lee said prior to the draft. “I'm proud of myself and proud of the effort I've put in, so you know what, this is it. I'm not going to stress about it. I'm not going to overthink it. It's just life, and we'll see where I end up."