The injury to Joe Burrow that ended his rookie campaign made it blatantly obvious that the Cincinnati Bengals needed to make changes on their offensive line, but the defensive line was also in need of an overhaul.
Let’s take a look at one of the new additions on each side of the line who could make a big difference in 2021.
Starting on offense, the team needed to do something about the right tackle position, and the addition of Riley Reiff made a lot of sense. Reiff is a former 1st Round pick of the Detroit Lions who, at 32, still has a lot of good football left in him as he has demonstrated this preseason.
In this clip, Reiff is matched up against another 1st Round pick, Montez Sweat. Sweat, who had 9 sacks last season, is an excellent pass-rusher with great speed off the edge. When you think about blocking a guy like that, the last word you would be likely to think of is “patience” and yet, that is exactly what comes to mind watching Reiff.
Reiff gives an inside hand, looking to help out the guard, then gets his eyes outside as he starts his kick step. He’s in no rush and has no problem staying between Sweat and the quarterback (Maybe it should be Burrow and Reiff doing adds for Old Spice).
This is an excellent block against a top pass-rusher and is a good indicator that Reiff will be able to hold his own against T.J. Watt and Myles Garrett in the AFC North.
This is another example of Reiff defeating speed on the edge. He is smooth with his footwork and uses his hands to effectively keep the defender at a distance, and prevent him from successfully executing a pass-rush move.
Reiff has still got it. This was an excellent signing by the Bengals.
A lot of attention has been paid to the fact that the Bengals added Frank Pollack as their offensive line coach and run game coordinator this offseason, but the addition of Marion Hobby to coach the defensive line has not gotten nearly enough attention.
This unit has made some major changes o the field in the last year as well. Long-time Bengals Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap could both end up playing together in Seattle. Carl Lawson went east to reopen the New York Sack Exchange, but unfortunately an injury has led to a bear market for the Jets in 2021.
To fill these holes, the Bengals looked north, where they brought in Larry Ogunjobi from the Cleveland Browns and south bringing in Trey Hendrickson from the New Orleans Saints, his crosstown neighbor from Tulane Cam Sample, and Joseph Ossai from the University of Texas.
The pass-rush looked much improved this preseason, but the NFL being what it is, the injury bug bit the Bengals. Ossai was vastly exceeding expectations and looked like he would be a major contributor to the Bengals defense as a rookie; now it sounds like his season is over.
But alas, there is hope in the form of UDFA pass-rusher, Darius Hodge. Hodge’s skill set does not match Ossai’s, but he has shown some burst off the edge, and a creative defensive coordinator like Lou Anarumo could find a way to make him a contributor in Year 1.
Five seconds into this clip, Hodge makes a subtle jab step to the inside. The idea here is to get the tackle to stop his feet and open up the edge, but the tackle doesn’t bite.
Fortunately, Hodge’s pass-rush move does work. As fast as he is coming off the edge, his hands are even faster. He swats away the blocker’s hands and rips underneath, forcing the quarterback to scramble.
This is an excellent play.
Darius Hodge with another good rep. Dips under the LT's punch and then runs the hoop to get a hand on Heinicke. pic.twitter.com/8rQ5oySaTh— Mike (Sans) (@bengals_sans) August 23, 2021
In this clip, Hodge doesn’t use his hands. Which is fine. He gets off the ball fast, gets to the tackle’s hip, and dips and rips underneath him.
I love the beginning of this rep, but he needs to finish better. He gets by the blocker, but he is too far up field and rounds off his path to the QB. He needs to keep coming with the rip and bend a tighter path around the blocker. This will put him on a more direct route to the quarterback, getting him there faster. This may just be a matter of technique and execution, or he may need to improve his hip flexibility.
Hodge has a really nice skill set, he just needs to put it all together. It will take time for him to reach his full potential, the trick for Hobby and Anarumo is to figure out how to effectively use him now, while building him up for the future.
It all starts up front for the Bengals, as both the offensive and defensive lines need to step up in a big way in 2021. Reiff be a huge part of that on offense, and Hodge could play a key role defensively.