The Bengals are in quite the situation.
They came into the 2019 offseason with offensive line as one of their biggest needs, and it was an area that should have been heavily prioritized, given there is a new era starting with Zac Taylor as the head coach.
The end result of free agency and the draft left the Bengals with what appeared to be a solid offensive line, which considering what we’ve seen the past few seasons was a pretty big improvement. However, it didn’t leave much depth at tackle, and a few injuries inside wouldn’t end well either.
Of course, we have now seen two quality offensive linemen lost this offseason. First, the Bengals’ first-round pick, offensive tackle Jonah Williams, saw his season end due to a shoulder injury. Now, the Bengals’ longest-tenured offensive lineman on the roster, Clint Boling, is retiring due to blood clots.
Despite these major setbacks, Taylor remains confident in the group the Bengals have gathered on the inside of the offensive line.
“We have a lot of guys in there that can compete for those jobs,” Taylor told Tyler Dragon of the Cincinnati Enquirer. “The left guard spot will be a competition in training camp and we’ll be excited to see what happens there. We have a lot of good guys in the mix who we are counting on to step up and do their job.”
“(Christian) Westerman is in there, we just signed John Jerry, (and) Trey Hopkins is in there as well. A lot of guys who can get in there and compete.”
Christian Westerman is probably the guy that has the most fan backing. He has gathered quite the fan club after performing fairly well during the preseason and whenever Boling missed a game or was kicked out to left tackle. Many were furious we ended up watching Alex Redmond struggle for almost the entire 2018 season, but Westerman was treated like an afterthought.
It is clear though that Westerman has the most to gain from this competition opening up. He is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and a season full of playing would easily springboard him into a deal with the Bengals or another team.
John Jerry seems like a bit of a long shot. He spent 2018 out of the league, and it seems more like he was brought in to help secure the depth on the interior of the offensive line with Boling’s future in doubt. He also brings a wealth of experience, which again, he helps try to replace in the absence of Boling. That being said, stranger things have happened when training camp battles are left wide-open. It does seem like Westerman’s job to lose though.
The one guy I have real trouble believing they’d start is Hopkins, and the reason sounds strange, but he is probably the teams best backup center and tackle currently on the roster.
Let me pose a question. If Hopkins goes down with an injury, who comes in if Glenn, Bobby Hart or Billy Price go down? The Bengals depth is extremely lacking, especially at the tackle position, and it is hard to believe they’d risk injuring Hopkins given how valuable he is as a backup at all three positions.
Despite these losses before the team even makes it to training camp, Taylor is still keeping up at least the appearance of confidence in his group of offensive linemen.
“Cordy (Glenn) can move back to left tackle which is where he’s played his whole career. We have a lot of confidence in him there,” Taylor said. “It’s unfortunate to lose guys in their rookie year. [Williams] had high expectations for himself. But we’ll be good.”
It isn’t fair to expect Taylor to say anything that isn’t positive at this point. After all, it is his first training camp, and he wants players to come in with a positive mindset. It is also fair to be confident in his starting offensive line, but the reality is the Bengals are only an injury or two away from having serious issues with that group.
Losing two guys you probably expected to start in 2019 is never going to leave your team with the ideal depth, but this is the position the Bengals currently find themselves in.
Let's hope Taylor knows something we don’t.