The Bengals ended 2017 on a high note; winning their final two games and knocking out divisional rival Baltimore out of the playoffs instilled a level of confidence in some of its players and leadership heading into 2018.
Offensive guard Christian Westerman can say he was a part of that brief success, and that’s more than he can say about anything else in his professional career. Is this reality his fault though?
It’s no secret that the Bengals offensive line was a major weakness the past two seasons in the time Westerman has been here. Yet, despite the troubles from mainstays of the group, Westerman was never given a chance to help right the ship until it was too late.
This time around, he can make an impact when it counts.
Age: 25 (Born 2/23/93)
Weight: 305 lbs
College: Arizona State
Hometown: Chandler, Arizona
Experience: Third season
Westerman is halfway through his four-year $2.571 million contract he signed back in 2016. He’ll count $687,924 against the cap this year and has $115,848 of dead money still attached to his deal. He’s set to be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the 2019 league year.
The highest-rated high school prospect in Arizona in the class of 2011, Westerman was not used to waiting for his shot. Despite an impressive college career at Arizona State and pre-draft tour at the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine in the months leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, Westerman has shown to be undervalued ever since the the draft. Projected as a Day 2 pick, the former Sun Devil fell to the Bengals late in the fifth-round.
As a rookie, Westerman was buried behind starters Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler and was inactive for the entire season. Having only practiced at guard, there was no intention for him to possibly compete at center while starter Russell Bodine was struggling in his third year.
2017 rolled around and the circumstances didn’t change. Zeitler left a vacancy at right guard, but Westerman was still on the outside looking in. Trey Hopkins eventually seized the spot and Westerman was left to warm the bench for the year once again, but his patience finally paid off before season’s end.
Due to several injuries at offensive tackle, Boling was forced to move to left tackle for the final two games of the year. His move left an opening at left guard, and Westerman, after 30 weeks on the active roster but not playing, was given the green light. He started at left guard for the Bengals final two victories against the Lions and Ravens in Weeks 16 and 17, while also rotating in and out with Alex Redmond at the position.
The reality of the situation was that the offensive line was low on bodies and they had minimal options besides playing Westerman, but they also could’ve easily played veteran T.J. Johnson and kept Westerman in the waiting. The fact that the line was dreadful for the entire year primed for fresh faces to be given a chance to do something.
The sample size, 52 snaps pass blocking and 35 snaps run blocking, was small and not many conclusions can be made of his play time. The dynamic of coming in and out every other quarter probably didn’t do him many favors, but all things considered, he did fine.
Westerman’s strengths and weaknesses can only be identical to what he was coming out of college. He’s a good athlete that can get his head in front of shaded defenders off the snap and is an efficient pulling blocker.
His grip is aided by his huge 11.75” hands, but he can get agro with his upper body and end up lunging, compromising his leverage. His lightness on his feet is useful in pass protection, and he has the anchor to snuff out power.
Considering Westerman is in the running to pick up where he left off last season as a starter on the line, there’s almost no chance he doesn’t survive cuts. It’s too early to tell which guard is the favorite to start Week 1 at the right guard spot, as was the case last year, but Westerman still has as good of a chance as Redmond and incumbent starter Hopkins.
The battle at the position should be one of the more competitive bouts on the team, and Westerman should feel confident he can run away with it now that he has a chance to do so.
Roster odds: 95 percent