If losing left tackle Andrew Whitworth hurt the Cincinnati Bengals most this offseason, then the loss of right guard Kevin Zeitler was a close second. The team hasn’t traditionally valued interior offensive linemen and felt as if they had some contingency plans in place, but the loss of both stalwarts brings big questions for a possible rebound in 2017.
While the team has invested Round 5 picks in versatile linemen for the past two years in Christian Westerman and J.J. Dielman, respectively, Cincinnati went with an interesting short-term solution for Zeitler’s departure. The team re-signed their former 2009 No. 6 overall selection, Andre Smith, but are asking him to play a position at which he’s never suited up at the NFL level.
Cincinnati is intending to line up Smith in Zeitler’s old spot at right guard, which he hasn’t seen playing time at since his early years at Alabama. Yet, as it is with so many other veteran tackles, the Bengals feel that kicking him inside can extend his productive shelf-life. Smith has always been known as more of a road-grader than a pass-protector (even though he’s been above-average at pass protecting in his pro career), so the idea of him kicking inside to aid a young and questionable line makes sense.
On this week’s Orange and Black Insider podcast, Connor Howe and I discussed all of the recent news with the Bengals and OTA sessions—with Smith’s recent absence due to illness being one of the topics. While his early absence is a blip on the 2017 radar, it has caused us to reassess the pros and cons associated with Smith’s reunion with the Bengals.
What caused Smith to miss some OTA work this time around is nothing to worry about at the moment. But, as unfair as it may seem, it does bring to mind one of the major issues in Smith’s otherwise productive career: missed time.
In his previous eight seasons played, Smith has played in a full season (16 regular season games) just twice in his career (both with the Bengals in 2012 and 2013). Not coincidentally, those were two of Smith’s most efficient years as a professional offensive lineman.
Adding to the concerns with Smith on the Bengals’ roster is the amount of missed games in his most recent seasons. Smith has missed a combined 21 games in the past three seasons, including 12 alone last season with the Vikings. In short, the Bengals can’t afford for him to miss time on a line that needs all of the capable veterans possible.
A new position:
This one’s pretty obvious and has been talked about since Smith re-signed with the Bengals. While the upside is high for Smith as he is suiting up at a position that almost seemed like his best fit from the get-go, he hasn’t played there since his early Crimson Tide days.
There are hopes that a similar body type and skill set to former Bengals stud right guard Bobbie Williams will translate immediately this season. Still, it’s a situation filled with cautious optimism.
Struggles with speed rushers, which is ironically a pro and con:
While Smith has been an effective player in the run game and largely capable as a pass-protector on the right side, there have been instances of him struggling against smaller, speedier guys off the edge. Sure, almost every tackle struggles against guys like Von Miller, but when Smith has shown pass-protection struggles it’s been against shifty guys like Miller and Elvis Dumervil.
While this trait is still something to be concerned about, the move to guard this year actually masks it. Sure, he will be asked to help Jake Fisher out on some double-teams against edge guys, but, for the most part, Smith will be tasked with improving the run game and holding his ground against strong interior players.
What do you think about Smith manning the right guard spot?
You can get the audio link of this OBI segment on SoundCloud. If you’re unable to join us live, all of our content is here on Cincy Jungle, as well as on our SoundCloud and YouTube channels, and on iTunes! You can tweet us @BengalsOBI or get in touch with us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening!