Though the Cincinnati Bengals are currently planning to start veteran Andre Smith at right guard this season, there’s no reason to hand him the job without competition.
Smith re-joined the Bengals this offseason after one year with the Minnesota Vikings, largely spent on Injured Reserve. Now back in the fold, the Bengals are moving Smith from his right tackle spot to right guard and plan to have him as the team’s starter at the position.
But why hand him the job before seeing how other players perform in training camp and the preseason? The Bengals should be encouraging and fostering competition rather than assigning someone a starting job who was allowed to walk in free agency just one year ago.
Smith was a good right tackle for a long time for the Bengals but he has experienced a fairly up and down career, lowlighted by numerous injuries. He has also had issues with his weight and conditioning, which has caused him to struggle with mobility for the past few seasons. The hope with moving him to guard is that it hides his lack of mobility and allows him to simply maul opposing defensive tackles and open holes in the run game. Blocking for runners has been his greatest strength and a big reason for his return, after all. The other big concern is his health as he has been unable to stay healthy for the past few seasons. Smith made it through less than four games in 2016, played 14 in 2015 and 9 in 2014.
Just because he has the most experience among all options the Bengals have at guard for this season doesn’t mean he should be the starter. If he’s the best player, then by all means, but, here are four other players who should be given a chance to push him for the job.
1) Christian Westerman
Westerman was a player who some draft experts had as the top offensive guard in the 2016 draft. For some reason, he fell to the fifth round and the Bengals happily scooped him up. Some draft experts compared Westerman to former Cleveland Browns and now Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack, which of course would be amazing if he reached that potential. It is currently unclear whether the Bengals will really give him a chance and what position the team foresees him playing. He was only active for one game during his rookie season and didn’t play one snap in the contest.
2) Alex Redmond
An undrafted free agent who joined the Bengals in 2016, Redmond received some buzz during training camp last year and ultimately ended up making the Bengals’ practice squad in his rookie year. Now, he is already getting good buzz this offseason and is hoping to not only make the roster but potentially even take a starting spot for the 2017 season.
3) Trey Hopkins
Trey Hopkins is a bit of a mystery as a player. He has been with the Bengals since 2014 as a versatile offensive lineman and the coaches seem to like him. He is a bit of a dark horse to take the right guard spot, but he has a pretty good chance of taking the backup job. He needs to prove himself this year considering how long he has been with the organization, both on the practice squad and roster.
4) T.J. Johnson
A seventh round pick from the 2013 draft class, Johnson started at left guard in Week 17 last season and played well. For the past few years, Johnson has been on the roster bubble, but as the backup to center Russell Bodine, his job has been secured. The Bengals rewarded him this past offseason by giving him a Restricted Free Agent tender and ultimately signing him to a two-year deal to keep him with the team. He most likely spend another season as the backup center, but he was the player the Bengals chose to start at left guard in Clint Boling’s place for Week 17 last year and he played pretty well in that game. He has a chance to take over the right guard spot, though, he’ll need to exhibit extremely impressive play to do so.