As we roll into the second game of the preseason Friday night, the Cincinnati Bengals will still be working to fill their two starting guard positions.
In the first preseason game, we saw a heavy rotation at guard. One can gather that is an indicator that both spots are still very much up in the air. Despite the initial depth chart, it is clear that head coach Zac Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan are trying to gather tape on all players to determine who fits in where when the final depth chart is due.
In Tampa, we saw players like Michael Jordan, Jackson Carman and D’Ante Smith be the players who stood out the most, for varying reasons. Let’s take a look at where each player is, heading into preseason Week 2.
Jordan looks to have improved under the tutelage of Willie Anderson this off-season. Couple that with Frank Pollack manning the offensive line group, a fairly cheap contract and the experience he has from games played last year, one would assume he is a lock to make the 53-man roster.
Some struggle with Jordan, simply because of his involvement in the play that left Joe Burrow laying on the FedEx Field grass last November, but we can find comfort in the fact that he is working and showing improvement.
Carman didn’t put together as impressive as showing as Jordan, however, he was just picked in the second round of the NFL draft in April, so he is making the roster.
Carman is still adjusting to the NFL game and working himself into shape, but the coaches have noted the extra work he has been putting in. The rookie out of Clemson has left a lot to be desired so far, but there is great potential upside as well. To see a second-round pick be disbanded in August would be a shock.
There are some issues here, but a pretty good rep for Carman pic.twitter.com/nowOhSPbia— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) August 15, 2021
Perhaps the most promising tape we’ve seen from a guard this preseason has come from Smith, the rookie out of East Carolina. Unfortunately, his status for Friday night’s game is up in the air, as he is dealing with a dehydration issue, but the tape from the first preseason game is certainly working in his favor.
Despite being drafted in the fourth round, Smith has shown flashes of great potential. He was the Bengals’ highest-graded pass-blocker last week according to Pro Football Focus and has been a consistent standout in practice this month. He’s a borderline lock to make the roster even if he misses some time with his current ailment.
After joining the team mid-season in 2020, Spain has shuffled around the offensive line quite a bit. In that, the team has found a solid offensive lineman with versatility. Settling in this year in camp, he has been taking his reps at left guard.
Spain spent most of his time on the right side last season and provided an instant boost. Now back at his natural spot at left guard, look for him to try and lock that spot down as he tries to stave off the young guys gunning for his job.
The man who goes by the moniker “Mr. Undrafted” signed a one-year deal this off-season, so his position on the week one roster isn’t 100% guaranteed. Spain is a player to keep your eye on this week in D.C.
Potential odd man out: Xavier Su’a-Filo
After an injury-plagued 2020 season, Su’a-Filo hasn’t gotten off to the best start in 2021. That is not all the fault of his own, but the impressive showing from younger players may be what seals his fate in The Queen City.
Working against him is the fact that in terms of contracts, he is the most expensive player at the guard position. Su’a-Filo needs to make the most of every rep he gets from here on out if he wants to remain in stripes. The investment in Carman, emergence of Smith, improvement in Jordan and steadiness of Spain are hard to ignore when it comes time to make the tough decisions.
Simply put: The coaching staff has to get these battles right in the coming weeks. As you watch Friday’s game, turn your attention to the trenches. The interior offensive line battle unfolding is the most important position battle for the Bengals offense.