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Bengals Weekly Lineman: Hakeem Adeniji, Quinton Spain impress as bookend tackles vs. Steelers

Of all the problems the Bengals had against the Steelers, offensive tackle play was not one of them.

NFL: SEP 27 Bengals at Eagles Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Head coach Zac Taylor made it clear last Friday that no one outside of the Bengals’ organization was to know the starting offensive line for Sunday’s game against the Steelers until the game itself. Despite his ambiguity, most of us had a good grasp of what it was going to be.

Jonah Williams wasn’t listed on the final injury report and was set to make his return at left tackle. Michael Jordan was slated to take his spot back at left guard just as Trey Hopkins was to do the same at center. Xavier Su’a-Filo wasn’t activated off of the Reserve/Injured list yet and Bobby Hart was declared out. This meant that either Alex Redmond or Quinton Spain was going to start at right guard and since Fred Johnson was on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, Hakeem Adeniji was pigeonholed at right tackle.

Simple enough—until Adeniji and Spain were seen warming up at left and right tackle, respectively, less than an hour before kickoff.

For whatever reason, Williams was not ready to play, and that created an emergency situation at the tackle position. Adeniji had filled in for Williams two weeks ago, so he at least had some familiarity with the position this season.

Spain, on the other hand, was about to play a position he hadn’t really played since he was a West Virginia Mountaineer in the early 2010s. When he was a rookie with the Tennessee Titans back in 2015, Spain played one snap at right tackle during a game he started at left guard.

One. Professional. Snap.

But if not Spain, then who? Redmond had practiced at tackle in previous years with the team, but the team wanted to keep him at right guard where he had been for the previous five games. Trey Hopkins played mostly left tackle during the 2016 preseason, but he’s getting paid to start at center.

No one else on the active roster was capable of filling the right tackle spot. Spain, who was signed onto Cincinnati’s practice squad not three weeks ago before Sunday, became the last remaining hope to block the NFL’s most lethal edge rusher in T.J. Watt.

And he did quite alright.

It was far from a perfect outing as Watt did his usual damage in the form of two sacks and four pressures on 35 pass rushes, but one of his sacks came on a stunt against Redmond, and the other was a clean up sack thanks to pressure from the other side of the line.

For most of the game, Spain played pretty well at an entirely new position to him. And when I turned on the film to watch him, I also couldn’t help but notice Adeniji holding his own in just his second-career start against a pretty good player in Bud Dupree as well.

The sight of Spain playing a different position was enjoyable to behold, but it’s not as if Adeniji was in an easier situation. Many believed he was to start at right tackle so long as Williams was able to go. We don’t know how Adeniji prepared for this week, but we do know that he looks far better than most sixth-round draft picks with less than a handful of starts on his resume.

Injuries dismantled any chance the Bengals’ defense had at keeping the Steelers’ out of the end zone, but missing both starting tackles and replacing them with a rookie and a career guard was something the Bengals simply couldn’t survive on paper. The offensive line was already playing the role of David to the Steelers’ pass-rushing Goliath; the last thing they needed was for their best player in Williams to not play.

For both Adeniji and Spain to keep their heads above water and turn a clear mismatch into a contested battle was incredible to witness and review. It would be shocking if at least one of them weren’t starting somewhere along the line in the coming weeks, even with their established starters returning from injury.