There may not be a player on the Cincinnati Bengals’ roster facing more pressure than Cedric Ogbuehi.
The former 21st overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft has had a forgettable first two years in the NFL. Even Ogbuehi admits he’s underperformed, especially when it came to his 2016 season, in which he started games at both right and left tackle.
“2016 was a sh---- year,” he told the Cincinnati Enquirer in January.
That was following what only could be called a complete disaster, both for Ogbuehi and the Bengals. Ogbuehi was far from being the only reason why the Bengals went 6-9-1, but in a season that saw six one-score losses and a tie, having better play by Ogbuehi might have made a difference in a few of those contests.
To be fair, this is Ogbuehi’s first offseason spent healthy in the NFL. He entered the league recovering from a torn ACL suffered in college, which wiped out all of his first training camp, preseason, and kept him sidelined for the first 11 games of his rookie year.
Then in 2016, a muscle injury sidelined him for most of the offseason workouts. Things only got worse when Ogbuehi suffered a toe injury that led to him missing most of the preseason. All of this paved the way for Ogbuehi to be one of the worst starting tackles in football last year. And, he didn’t make it through the full season as a starter as he ended up benched on multiple occasions and then was stripped of his starting right tackle role officially after Week 12.
While far from encouraging, his lack of healthy offseason time is also why there’s reason to think Ogbuehi is in for an improved 2017 season, as he’s now had a full offseason of work for the first time in his career. He’s also made it through more than a week of training camp with no setbacks and few struggles.
Ogbuehi even got some praise from one of the greatest lineman of all time in Anthony Munoz, who knows a thing or two about what it takes to reach your potential.
“He’s big, strong, athletic,” Munoz told Bengals.com. “He’s got all the tools. The thing I would say is that you’re a No. 1 pick. They expect you to take over for the other guy. It’s time. He can be the guy. They’ve showed that they believe in him. When they made me the No. 1 pick (1980), my goal was to come in and prove them right. It took me three days, but the attitude was I’m going to do whatever it takes to prove they were right.”
One big way Ogbuehi can become a better player is simply being more confident in himself. Last year, it was obvious that Ogbuehi, as well as coaches and teammates, weren’t confident he could get the job done. That’s something Munoz knows has to improve dramatically for Ogbuehi to become the guy Cincinnati thinks he can be.
“The way I approached my whole career it’s all about technique and believing in technique,” he said. “That’s confidence. It’s all about believing it. Trusting it.”
Another former Bengals great, Dave Lapham also knows what it takes to play on the offensive line at a high level. He echoed the need for confidence to succeed in the NFL, and he too likes where Ogbuehi is mentally.
“Ced is night and day when it comes to playing and mentally,” Lapham says. “I think he was broken last year. He couldn’t look you in the eye. A lot of it is mental and mentally he appears light years better.”
In the NFL, you won’t find many winning teams who have a bad left tackle. That’s the blindside protector for quarterbacks, and you could argue this position affects a quarterback as much as any pass-catcher can.
When Dalton has had a good offensive line, he’s been one of the NFL’s better quarterbacks. But when he’s under siege, Dalton has struggled to carry this offense.
Ogbuehi probably won’t’ be one of the Bengals’ 10 or even 15 best players this season, but in terms of importance, he could end up being near the top.