It’s late August. We’re still wondering why Christian Westerman isn’t competing against Alex Redmond and Trey Hopkins to become Cincinnati’s starting right guard. Our logic seems sound. Strong. Seems like it.
We’ve watched and liked what we saw. Pro Football Focus lists him as Cincinnati’s top offensive player this preseason, with top grades as a pass blocker and run blocker. Football Outsiders shared that he should be the top option for that spot, too. Discount PFF and Westerman passes the seeing eye test. He’s a beast. When he engages with a defender, he wins.
Yet, he’s being groomed as Clint Boling’s backup — he’s played 116 snaps this preseason, all at left guard.
Head coach Marvin Lewis was asked why Westerman wasn’t playing right guard during Tuesday’s press conference. “They are synonymous,” he said, we assume with a menacing glare. “It doesn’t really matter, left or right, you have to prove you can play.”
Whoa. Alright, alright. Chill, Marvin.
If you look at the team’s actions, factoring their head coach’s comments, it’s clear by now Westerman isn’t being viewed as someone who’s as ready as Redmond and Hopkins; both of whom have started preseason games this year with serviceable results.
We’re not sure where the disconnect is. Yet, there’s something amiss.
Since we’re not seeing it on the field — and I’m not invoking Pro Football Focus, which the team clearly hates — we wonder if there’s a mental component.
One thing we can’t determine are assignments. We’re not listening to Bill Lazor’s calls and even if we heard them, would we be familiar with the terminology to know everyone’s assignments? What about the call at the line of scrimmage, when the center is pointing out the MIKE? Who is Westerman supposed to block? Are they sliding right or left? If the quarterback audibles out of a play, are there issues with the new call?
We’ll just never know. We judge an offensive lineman based on his individual battles against the first defender he encounters. What if he’s not encountering the defender he’s assigned to block? What if he slides left whereas everyone else slides right? That opens a lane that’s exposes Andy Dalton.
In the end, this boils down to trust.
If the coaching staff doesn’t trust Westerman and believes he’ll get Andy Dalton killed, why would they allow him to compete for the right guard vacancy? He’s talented enough to justify a roster spot, maybe with the hope that one day he’ll improve.
Of course everything here is speculative. We’re guessing. We could be way off. We’re not sitting with the coaches during meetings, listening to calls on the sidelines, or hanging out with the offensive line during film review. However, there is frustration here. Concern even. You read it Lewis’ comments.
Regardless, the Bengals starting offensive line, barring an injury, will feature Redmond or Hopkins at right guard. Westerman will play a backup role until he improves whatever situation has placed him in the coaches’ nonexistent doghouse.