After eight seasons in the NFL at the right tackle position, Andre Smith was expected to move to to right guard in his ninth NFL season, and first back with the Cincinnati Bengals after a year away spent with the Minnesota Vikings.
Smith was brought back this offseason to fill the void left by Kevin Zeitler leaving in free agency. But his reunion with the Bengals isn’t off to the smoothest of starts.
Smith has missed numerous practices this offseason due to a sickness during OTAs and then an elbow injury in training camp. On Friday night in the Bengals’ preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Smith was not among the players who the Bengals announced as being expected to sit out. But, he did not play, not even for one snap.
Trey Hopkins, who has been taking Smith’s anticipated right guard spot with the first team offense in practices, got to suit up with the starters and he did well in the role. Hopkins played for the entire first half and helped pave the way for 57 rushing yards by Jeremy Hill and Joe Mixon combined as well as 0 sacks allowed to quarterbacks Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron.
“I felt really good about it,” Hopkins said after the game. “It’s been a long road and I’m glad the organization stuck with me. You know coming from IR to practice squad for two years to now finally getting out there with the guys, it felt great. I felt really good about it.”
Also after the game, Smith told Bengals.com it was a “coach’s decision” for him not to play and that “it’s OK. Nothing is going on.”
It certainly sounds like something is going on.
Even if that something is Hopkins taking over Smith’s anticipated starting role. It seems Smith simply can’t be relied on. If he’s going to change positions after eight seasons in the NFL, he needs every practice and in-game snap he can get. And so far, he’s missed numerous practices and his first preseason game back with the team. That’s not a good indicator of what’s to come this season, especially after he made it through not even four games last season before going on Injured Reserve. Not to mention, Smith hasn’t played a full season since 2012. And that was his only 16-game season since getting drafted by the Bengals with the No. 6 overall pick in 2009.
Smith signed a one-year, $3,250,000 contract with the Bengals this offseason, including a $1,550,000 signing bonus, a base salary of $1,250,000, a roster bonus of $62,500 and a workout bonus of $200,000. He carries a cap hit of $3,062,500 and a dead cap value of $1,550,000, if he’s cut, according to Spotrac. That amount of money shows the Bengals were relying on him to start, but it now appears it’s no certainty that occurs. And if he’s a backup, that’s quite a bit of money to be paying to a backup. There’s a little less than one month to see how this situation plays out, but for now, it certainly seems Hopkins is the new frontrunner to start at right guard in Week 1.
“I’m really thankful for the organization for giving me the time to get better and get back on my feet with the year on practice squads and everything and just letting me learn and continue to strengthen my leg back up,” Hopkins said on Friday. “I feel great now and I know the techniques, and I’ve been here long enough to know the schemes of the offense. So I’m feeling really good.”
As for his first go around in live action with the starting line, Hopkins thought he had a good showing, though he’s also sure there will be things to work on.
“It was a pretty good night,” Hopkins said. “I haven’t seen the film, haven’t seen the grade. I’m sure Paul (Alexander) is going to have things he wants cleaned up — there always is after the first preseason game. With a quick reflection on it, I felt pretty good.”