Joe Burrow struggled in Tuesday’s training camp practice, and Paul Dehner Jr. was not impressed.
He wrote: “Nobody is saying it won’t turn around, in fact, it almost certainly will soon, but if we are looking at Tuesday we are looking at a quarterback who went 5 of 12 with one completion longer than 10 yards against a rush trained to not get near him.”
Dehner’s recap of Burrow’s lackluster performance in practice circulated around Twitter, and for some reason, people started blaming the offensive line. According to fans on social media, Burrow’s struggles were rooted in the fact that the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell.
It would be one thing to criticize last years’ offensive line, the one behind which Burrow’s knee was torn to shreds. But the main focus on Twitter right now seems to be that Burrow is struggling because the Bengals’ refused to address the offensive line.
Many on the internet would be surprised to learn that the Bengals did, in fact, upgrade their offensive line.
Yes, the Bengals passed on “The next Anthony Muñoz” with the fifth overall pick in the draft. But they still made their unit better this offseason.
Here are all the ways the Bengals improved their offensive line:
Offensive Line Coach
Jim Turner was, to most people, the worst assistant coach on the staff. He was a huge step down from Frank Pollack, which is why everyone was glad the Bengals got Pollack back.
Not only was Pollack one of the best assistants on staff from the moment he walked in the door, but he is one of the best offensive line coaches in the NFL.
This upgrade cannot be overstated. Pollack is coach who works with the linemen every single day, the one who sits in the film room with them, and the one who gets to know them the best. Having Pollack back would be a huge boost to the line, even if the personnel stayed the same. But, the personnel has not stayed the same.
In fact, the Bengals’ left tackle was the best player on the offensive line last year. According to PFF: “That emphasis on technique helped him to a 70.1 PFF grade in his 10 appearances last season...it ranked second among six qualifying rookie or second-year left tackles behind only Mekhi Becton. Williams’ grade was also the highest on Cincinnati’s offensive line.”
On the right side? The Bengals switched out Bobby Hart for Riley Reiff. The Bengals are going from a right tackle that gave up four sacks in 2020 to one who only gave up one.
Given Williams’ professional history and Reiff’s age, concern for injuries is valid. The Bengals drafted D’Ante Smith, and they’re getting Isaiah Prince back this year. The backup tackle competition will be much tougher than last year.
This is where the big improvement was needed. Michael Jordan and Xavier Su’a-Filo started here in Week 1 last year. Su’a-Filo didn’t make it out of the first game, so a steady stream of Alex Redmond and Fred Johnson rotated at right tackle. The Bengals signed Quinton Spain partway through the season, and he became one of the more reliable linemen in Cincinnati.
The Bengals drafted Jackson Carman in the second round, a National Champion out of Clemson. Carman protected Trevor Lawrence’s blindside, and the Bengals have high hopes for him. Between Spain and Carman, the Bengals can find a starting duo that will be a significant upgrade over last year’s group.
This is the one of the two positions that didn’t need an urgent upgrade. Trey Hopkins has been solid as a Bengal, and has experience working with Pollack from his first stint with the Bengals. There was a concern that he wouldn’t be able to start the season due to a knee injury. But he has been cleared to play, so he will snap the ball to Burrow in Week 1. Having an experienced center anchoring the line will be crucial in helping all of the new pieces mix together.
The Bengals drafted Trey Hill, who dropped down draft boards after an injury in 2020. While Hill won’t be much of a threat to challenge Hopkins for the starting job, it will be interesting to see how he develops at center or at guard this year.
With all of these pieces in place, the Bengals’ offensive line is going to look significantly better in 2021. While they won’t have five Pro Bowlers on the offensive line, they will still be able to protect Burrow better than most will give them credit for.
These are all reasons why PFF had the Bengals as the fourth-most improved offensive line in the NFL this year.
So the next time someone says the Bengals refused to upgrade their offensive line, that really means that person refused to pay attention to the Bengals’ offseason.