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Bengals OTAs: OL shuffles, while confidence returns for John Ross and others

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In the early days of their first OTAs under new coach Zac Taylor, the offensive line configuration is a lot different than that of 2018. Might a valuable veteran be on the outside looking in?

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Any time a new regime takes over the coaching ranks, fan bases get heavy doses of optimism about the new direction. But, with those positive vibes also come questions—especially when it comes to the decisions made on critical parts of the roster.

With just one day of practices in the books, a bunch of both smiles and shrugs came to Who Dey Nation. The coaching staff is rightfully examining many spots of the roster via intense competition, while other veterans are getting a second chance with a fresh set of eyes, or are buying in to what Taylor and Co. are feeding them.

These were some of the storylines from the early sessions of OTAs this week.

Clint Boling grinding for a spot, but should that even be the case?

For the past two offseasons, the Bengals have embarked on a mission to massively rebuild their offensive line. After feeling the effects from the losses of both Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati has used its past two first round picks on linemen, while also swinging a massive trade and doling out four new contracts to other linemen this offseason alone.

As the first session was ensuing, word emerged that a new group had been configured, so to speak. This lineup consisted of first round pick, Jonah Williams, being placed at left tackle, while last year’s big acquisition, Cordy Glenn, was moved inside to left guard.

It sounds like one of a small handful of ideal scenarios, but there was on noticeable absentee. Clint Boling, the most-tenured and arguably most talented offensive lineman as of this moment, wasn’t part of the alignment.

Before we jump off of the ledge here, there is an important thing to note: Boling is unavailable with an undisclosed issue, helping to pave the way for this “starting lineup”.

Still, after Williams was selected, the conjectures on Boling’s future began to spin wildly—be it in grounded opinions or not. There has been a lot of chatter about Taylor finding his five best linemen to play on Sundays, and without a doubt, Boling is one of those five.

A couple of years ago, the Bengals decided that they could (would) only pay one of their talented guards on a long-term deal and because they don’t traditionally value the position, they went the cheaper route in Boling over Zeitler. Now, there seems a possibility that the team is content to part ways with the nine-year veteran with a slew of new coaches.

But, for a variety of reasons, moving on from Boling just doesn’t make much sense.

Financially-speaking, Boling’s cap hit is just $5.75 million. While that might be more than what the Bengals like to pay guards, it’s manageable, and if Glenn is the left guard for 2019, they’re paying him $9.25 million to shove inside this year. Boling is also on the last year of his deal, so using him in 2019 in a bridge year (as could be the case with other veterans this season) bears logic.

If this is a move predicated on numbers, one has to ask where the Bengals would use the savings. Rental deals on the free agent market could be available, but the only place that would seem to make sense is to use any savings on new deals to A.J. Green and/or Tyler Boyd. Still, this isn’t a franchise that is ever cap-strapped, so even that seems like a bit of a reach.

On the other hand, if it’s a fit issue in the new scheme, that wouldn’t make much sense either, as Boling has started NFL games at three different positions for the team—and has done so at pretty high levels. If, for some reason, they are no longer enamored with him at left guard, a competition should at least be brewing at right tackle with the embattled, yet neo-wealthy Bobby Hart.

There is a lot to play out here, and we’ll see what five guys they trot out there when Boling is healthy, but casting him off seems like it would be a mistake.

John Ross is a happy camper

For the past two years, the former No. 9 overall pick couldn’t get himself into the good graces of a lot of people. Whether it was in fans who became frustrated at his developing “bust” label, or the team’s head coach refusing to give him significant snaps until his hand was forced, Ross was in a downward spiral, professionally-speaking.

But, after limited exposure to Taylor this spring and with one OTA session in the books, Ross already seems to be reinvigorated, if we are to take five little words seriously:

If the Bengals are to make an unlikely immediate splash under a fresh-faced coaching staff (more of that in a second), Ross is one of the most important players in 2019. Sure, the health of a number stars on both side of the ball will obviously be critical, but Taylor’s ability to get much more out of Ross in that critical third season will be paramount to Cincinnati being taken seriously this season.

Some of Ross’ potential NFL growth this year will also be on him and good fortunes on the injury front. We know the tempo of the offense will be quick and it will contain a variety of plays that should suit Ross’ respective strengths, so he could be in for a breakout year with the Bengals.

If that occurs, good things are bound to happen for the club in 2019.

Bengals veterans are buying into the “New Dey”

It’s apparent that this fanbase isn’t enamored with the opinion that the national media is currently holding about this Bengals team in 2019. Namely that this season will be a struggle and true fruit will bear under Taylor in 2020 or 2021.

Folks want to believe that Cincinnati will immediately shake off the mental and emotional cobwebs that have appeared en masse since the 2015 Wild Card loss and sniff the postseason in 2019. It’s possible, but it’s a bit of an outlier for a team wielding coaches who are in their first NFL stints at offensive and defensive coordinator, as well as at the head post.

Still, there is a lot of talent on this roster. And, some of the high-level players who have seen a lot in The Queen City over the past few years have already begun taking notice of the changes after just one day of practice.

This time of year always brings out the “player speak”, but it is worth noting that this is a growing theme amongst the veterans.

“The sky’s the limit for this offense,” Green said, via Bengals.com. “I feel like this offense mirrors a lot when we had Jay (Gruden). A lot of deep shots and a lot of stuff like that. It could be big. It could be a big year.”

Green also lauded the tempo of the OTA practice, calling it “the biggest difference” from last year to this spring. These are especially telling words, given Green’s other comments recently regarding Marvin Lewis’ perceived preference for the defense.

A lot of things have to go right this season for the Bengals to get back to their postseason ways of 2011-2015, but if we’re taking these very early signs as any indication, things are headed in the right direction.

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