The offensive line may be viewed as the biggest need by most of Cincinnati.
For years now Bengals fans have been demanding that their team stop the bleeding as we saw one of the best offensive lines in the league slowly become a shell of itself. The Bengals’ offensive coordinator, Brian Callahan, views the offensive line as a need, but he also sees plenty of potential in what the team currently has.
“Yeah, I feel very good about those guys,” Callahan told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “Do I think there’s room for improvement? Absolutely. If we can find better, we’ll get better. Do I think we’re in terrible shape? Not at all. I think we have good, young talent we’re excited about. The jump Mike Jordan and Fred Johnson could make, we’re counting on it. Put in a year with off-season training, and strength playing a factor and being comfortable in the system for an entire offseason and training camp and we’re counting on those guys to step up.”
This seems like coach talk at first, but when you think back to how well the offensive line bounced back in the second half of the 2019 season, it makes sense. This unit wasn’t completely helpless, and they were partially responsible for Mixon’s midseason turnaround.
This line of thinking would’ve been dangerous in the past. We saw Cincinnati rarely bring in any offensive linemen to compete over the past few seasons to try and push struggling players off the line. They have brought in players like Cordy Glenn and Billy Price, but those moves were made in response to trying to replace players. We watched this team allow Cedric Ogbuehi to walk into a starting left tackle spot when Andrew Whitworth left, and then they didn’t even bring in enough talent to have him compete for a roster spot.
It seems like the new coaches (and hopefully the front office learning from their mistakes) has Cincinnati looking at how they approach their offensive line in the offseason differently. For instance, the outrage over the team re-signing Bobby Hart should’ve been more focused on the team not also bringing in a player to also push for the right tackle spot. The idea that they could bank on a player taking this leap in production is just too big of a gamble to take in today’s NFL. Callahan also notes that two acquisitions from last season could be huge parts of pushing the competition this offseason.
“Jonah becomes a difference,” the offensive coordinator said. “Bobby and John Miller played well for us. They weren’t terrible. Would we like to get competitive at all spots? Of course. I think Fred will be a part of that … We have developmental guys we feel good about and guys that have played we feel good about.”
Williams is probably going to have the biggest impact along the offensive line next season. Cincinnati was lucky to have him fall to them in the first round. He should easily become an anchor on the left side. Johnson was picked up off the waiver wire, and he got to play at left tackle down the stretch. He showed sparks of a player who could push for a starting role at some point. It is great that Callahan feels so strongly about Johnson and his other young players taking leaps, but the Bengals’ shouldn’t use that as an excuse to pass up bringing in another talented offensive linemen.
The biggest example for this comes from last season. The biggest issue last season was the lack of depth Cincinnati had along the offensive line. They lost Williams before the season, and then Glenn suffers a concussion. That left them pretty much lost and having to play John Jerry, a guard who had spent a year away from football, at left tackle. The starting lineup has recovered quite a bit from its rock bottom, but this team still needs some more depth to hold it up. That is the nice side effect of having a healthy amount of competition. The guys who are competing for the spot then are waiting in the wings in case someone has to miss time.
Finally, one of the biggest questions on everyone’s mind is the state of former first round pick, Price. Callahan wasn’t as concrete with how secure his spot on the roster was at this point.
“Billy had moments that were good, bad,” Callahan said. “Billy is competing at the guard spots. We have guards we feel good about. Billy is part of the mix in the competition. What that means for him between now and Opening Day, I can’t tell you specifically. He has to come in and compete. We expect him to get better, too, because he has to.”
If there was ever a quote that put a player on notice, this would be it. This coaching staff has no ties to Price, and since he was drafted the team has extended Trey Hopkins at center, drafted Jordan and signed John Miller. Price has been forced to earn his spot in the starting lineup, and now it seems like he will have to work to make the roster. That isn’t to say he should have one foot out the door. He will be entering his third season, and if he shows improvement, he should be able to rise in the depth.
It is just fresh to hear that, while the the coaching staff is optimistic about what they have, they aren’t content. Whether this all ends up being talk or not remains to be seen, but this seems consistent with the idea that the Bengals will be active this offseason.