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Bengals mailbag: Jordan’s versatility and win-later mode?

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Can a rookie interior lineman actually be a better option at tackle? And, does the loss of Jonah Williams set the Bengals back to “reset mode”?

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It’s a quieter period in the NFL calendar for teams, as all 32 squads are gearing up for training camp in a few weeks.

Vibes were positive towards the end of the Bengals’ mandatory minicamps, but it all came crashing down with a resounding thud with the Jonah Williams injury news.

The whirlwind of emotions has fans scrambling for semblances of hope for 2019. We sensed the panic on some recent episodes of The Orange and Black Insider, including in some of our episodes centering on listener questions.

We’ll start with this question left in the live Q & A comment thread, which we were unfortunately unable to get to in this most recent episode.

With the Bengals opting to not draft a QB in round 1 of the 2019 edition of the NFL Draft, which signaled to its fan base that it is not in a rebuilding mode with Zach (SIC) Taylor, does the Jonah Williams injury changes the mindset around the organization about this being a win now situation?

The pendulum of emotions and expectations over the past six months in Who Dey Nation has frankly been hard to bear. Shall we recap?

1.) Bengals “mutually part ways” with Marvin Lewis. YAY!

2.) Cincinnati seems to have their coach targeted, but can’t announce the hire until February because said candidate is participating in the Super Bowl. UGH!

3.) New coach Zac Taylor is behind the eight ball because of the late start to his takeover and, for a variety of reasons, he is forced to go down further than he would have liked on his assistant coach wish list. Oh, boy.

4.) Another trademark free agency period for the Bengals. Yawn.

5.) Well, hey—a pretty nice first draft haul by Taylor and Co. Sweet!

6.) This team is looking pretty good this spring. They might surprise some people.

7.) Oh, Jonah, we hardly knew ye. For the ninth time out of 10 first round picks by the club from 2012-2019, Cincinnati’s first round pick suffered a significant injury in his rookie season.

Caught up, yet?

Right around point Nos. 5 and 6, folks started ditching the “2019 rebuilding project” mantra and began buying into the notion that this team could sniff the postseason in Taylor’s first year. Then, when point No. 7 hit, it seems as if folks are resigned to more less-than-mediocre results this year.

If you were to ask anyone in the Bengals’ organization, they will tell you that despite all of the changes and recent turmoil, this is a team built to win right away. There are signals pointing to that being true, namely at acquired talent at the skill positions, while other signs direct one’s attention to the 2020 and 2021 offseasons.

The Williams injury puts a major damper on this team’s ability to be competitive out of the gate, to be sure. Williams was supposed to be one of the most pro-ready players in the draft, is a film nut and, get this: was one of the most durable players in all of college football.

Then, he gets to Cincinnati and after a handful of practices in helmets and shorts, he’s done for 2019.

It’s no secret that the offensive line play is not only the biggest question for the Bengals this year, but their biggest key to potential success. Losing a guy who is arguably your best current lineman really deflates confidence across the board.

I don’t think this really changes the team’s mindset, depending on what you think that might be. I think the aim is to be competitive this year, of course, but everyone knows this is a team undergoing major changes this year, so there is probably some leniency going to be shown.

It’s kind of like if they stumble into a nine-win season somehow, “hey, great—we knew we had talent!”. But, if that isn’t the scenario, then that also is expected, so shrug the shoulders and move on to the next draft class.

The Bengals supposedly got the message from apathetic fans which prompted them to move to Taylor. Still, if things don’t appear to be heading in a positive direction early in the young coach’s tenure and fan unrest continues, the leash could be much tighter this time around than it was for Lewis.

The hype will kick back into high gear when August hits, but the coaching staff will need to get creative to mask deficiencies left with Williams’ absence. If the offensive line can somehow push itself into at least the average echelon for the 2019 season, things can be salvaged for a competitive campaign and should only get better once Williams returns.

If it’s more of what we saw on a weekly basis last year, though, get those shoulders loosened up for some shrugging.

*****

Here’s an interesting text we also received from one of our OBI listeners recently:

Do you think Michael Jordan can play right tackle better than Bobby Hart?

I’m convinced that No. 23 could do anything you ask of him, athletically-speaking. Oh—not that MJ?

In all seriousness, this is an intriguing question because it evokes thoughts on the athleticism of the Bengals’ rookie offensive lineman. Taylor and offensive line coach Jim Turner lauded Jordan’s ability to play multiple spots at a high level at Ohio State. They also seem pretty confident that he can do the same in the NFL for Cincinnati.

The problem? Jordan never lined up at tackle in a game for the Buckeyes during his collegiate career.

The fan base can pounce on Hart as much as they’d like (it’s easy and with good reason), but to expect a rookie to somehow be an improvement at a position he’s never played, as compared to a five-year veteran, is a major stretch. And, with the offensive line being a shifty shell game the past couple of offseasons, getting some form of cohesion and continuity, even if it’s in the form of Hart, should be a priority.

Still, the idea of grooming Jordan to be a tackle, however unlikely, is intriguing. His athleticism and versatility were traits that made him a relatively-hot commodity in the draft and his size is nothing to sneeze at, either.

At 6’6” and 312 pounds, his has comparable measurables to first round tackle, Andre Dillard. A concern for interior versus exterior linemen is arm length at the NFL level, but Jordan’s 34 14 - inch arms were longer at the NFL Combine weigh-ins than Dillard’s 33 12 -inch arms.

So the concerns with Jordan at tackle largely seem to center (see what I did there?) around inexperience and if he has the feet to play the position. And though the Buckeyes weren’t in a bad spot at tackle during Jordan’s years, the powers-that-be obviously felt that he’s better-suited for guard and center.

If there are any inklings by the Bengals’ staff of trying Jordan at tackle, it will be a long-term project. As things currently stand, they have the time and flexibility to be patient with Jordan, given the glut of interior linemen the team has acquired this spring.

Furthering the unlikelihood of Jordan moving to tackle is the Bengals’ unsuccessful track record of attempting to fit square pegs into round holes. This team needs specific plans for promising prospects, chock full of playing time at familiar positions. They don’t need wacky ideas like moving defensive tackles to guard, a la Jason Shirley a handful of years ago.

The best and quickest route for Jordan to contribute at a high level for the Bengals appears to be as the heir apparent at left guard to Clint Boling. We’re not sure how soon that opportunity will come, given Boling’s absence from minicamp practices, but that spot is where some of Jordan’s best college tape is seen and where the easiest path to NFL transition is paved.

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