We’re closing in on training camp, and it just may be one of the most important and influential in Marvin Lewis’ tenure with the Cincinnati Bengals.
We’ve seen the veteran coach turn the Bengals around in 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2011, but how much magic does he have left?
Even though we have a pretty good idea as to who will be starting many of the teams’ positions going into 2018, there are still some that are up for grabs. In addition, supporting roles from younger players are also in question—particularly with Lewis’ track record.
Be it through Twitter, or The Orange and Black Insider Bengals podcast, we have recently received a number of interesting Bengals questions. You can always send them to us via Twitter @CincyJungle, @CJAnthonyCUI and/or @BengalsOBI, as well as on our live broadcasts of OBI episodes.
For those who have followed the Bengals over the past 15 years, it’s not breaking news that Lewis has a spotty record of relying on rookies for big roles early in their careers. The veteran coach may or may not have a choice this year, as the club is at a major crossroads.
2018 first-round pick Billy Price is penciled in to start at center, but what about big-play safety, Jessie Bates III? Given the team’s desire to create more game-changing plays this year under Teryl Austin, Bates seems to be poised for a significant role in a year of change.
However, should we expect Bates to play in all 16 games right away? That’s a question we received on our most recent episode of OBI.
Both myself and Cincy Jungle contributor John Sheeran believed that Bates, if healthy, will play every game possible this year. However, what about starting some or all of the games this year?
That’s probably not going to happen. George Iloka and Shawn Williams, the incumbent starters, are both on expensive contracts and still exude many traits the Bengals traditionally value at the position—namely range and physicality. Still, after they both netted just one interception apiece last year, their roles should be in question.
Even so, Bates won’t be supplanting them as a starter to begin 2018. The Bengals have recently employed more of a nickel base defense, or one where they employ five defensive backs.
With this mindset coupled with his skill set, Bates will probably play a role akin to the one both Chris Crocker and Leon Hall did at the end of their respective careers with the Bengals. He’ll shadow those sometimes-lethal weapons out of the slot and occasionally play that center field role in which he excelled at Wake Forest.
Let’s just hope the role pays off with immediate dividends.
@CincyJungle @BengalsOBI Did Bene Benwikere end up playing enough last season to meet the conditions of the trade to change the Bengals compensation?... or am I confusing it with a clause in his contract?— Charlie S (@CShrink) July 13, 2018
If you need your memory jogged, the Bengals traded Bene Benwikere to the Cowboys right around cutdown day last year. Some believed Benwikere would land on the team’s roster as a lower-level depth chart corner, they were simply too packed with high-round picks at the position.
Essentially, if Benwikere was active on the Cowboys’ roster in 2017 four or more times, the Bengals would net a 2019 sixth round draft pick. Well, in consulting with Pro Football Reference, Benwikere suited up for 12 games with the Cowboys last year.
So, it would appear as if, for now, the Bengals got their sixth-round pick. And, even though it’s a year away, the next question might be in what the Bengals do with it.
Usually, picks in round six by the Bengals are reserved for special teams contributors. They didn’t have one this year, but other recent ones include defensive backs Brandon Wilson (2017) and Derron Smith (2015), as well as wide receiver Cody Core (2016) and linebackers Jordan Evans (2017) and Marquis Flowers (2014).
For most teams, a sixth-round pick doesn’t mean all that much. However, the Bengals value draft capital more than most franchises, so the probable netting of said pick for Benwikere from Dallas likely makes them happy.
We’ll see if that pick will net what Benwikere couldn’t to the Bengals’ defense, but for now, it doesn’t appear to be someone who will be an immediate-impact player.
The question of the offseason for the Bengals — especially now that the draft is behind us — continues to be in who will man the starting right guard and right tackle positions. Since the team didn’t use high picks on either position, it’s not only about which players will anchor the right side, but also in their overall ability to be effective.
As we head into training camp, we figured Jake Fisher would flank the other outside spot opposite of Cordy Glenn on the left. Christian Westerman showed enough in a small sample size last year to be the frontrunner at guard.
Fisher had a procedure to fix an irregular heartbeat late last year and given the team’s declining of Cedric Ogbuehi’s fifth-year option for 2019, they are giving the appearance that they are more committed to the former Oregon Duck. Though he’s had more health issues than Ogbuehi, some of his tape shows more promise than that of the guy who was drafted one round ahead of him back in 2015.
At guard, there’s a logjam. Westerman probably has the highest upside, but Trey Hopkins has the most experience on the right. Alex Redmond also received some playing time last year with somewhat-positive results, but most are thinking Westerman should and does have the inside track at starting.
Additionally, rookie Rod Taylor might make a run at things, but the wildcard here is Bobby Hart. While the team hopes Hart can show some promise at right tackle, he is currently listed on the team’s website as both a tackle and guard. It’s unclear how much confidence the coaches have in him at guard right now, but we know they like him and that they like to hang on to players with positional flexibility.
As more time passes, the likelihood of Fisher and Westerman as starters seems less and less of an absolute certainty. Ogbuehi is backing up both spots, but he has apparently looked much better under new offensive line coach Frank Pollack so far this spring.
“I’ve never seen him doing some of the things he’s doing. He looks powerful and under control,” a source told Cincy Jungle last month. “(It’s) all because of offensive line coach Frank Pollack.”
While it seems as if the book on Ogbuehi’s NFL career has been written through his first three pro seasons, one must never discount a guy in a contract year. With a new coach and system seeming to already have an impact and the big guy looking for a second big payday, this could be a very interesting spring for the former first-round pick.
No matter who “wins” the starting jobs this year, don’t be surprised if those two players don’t play all 16 games for various reasons. Potential injuries being one, but performance issues could be another.
If you’re making me guess before training camp, I’ll go with one expected starter and one surprising one. Westerman will be the right guard and Ogbuehi will get another shot at right tackle.
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