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2023 Bengals Position Preview: Offensive Line

Bengals offensive line builds cohesiveness

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The Jungle is atwitter (or is it a-”X” now?) with talk of a potential Joe Burrow extension being announced soon. While Burrow’s extension is about keeping him in the clubhouse, building the offensive line is about keeping him on the field.

As Bengals fans, we have seen some dark days. We traveled through the desert, thirsty for a playoff win. Then an Oasis came in the form of Joseph Lee Burrow, leading the team to the Super Bowl two years ago and AFC Championship game last season.

At the end of the day, playoff wins don’t mean much until you win the big one. To bring a ring Super Bowl ring home to Cincinnati, this Oasis needs his own Wonderwall. He needs strong protection to not only keep him upright but give him time to deliver the Lombardi.

With the addition of Orlando Brown Jr. and, just as importantly, the retention of Jonah Williams, this is the strongest wall that Burrow has seen as an NFL quarterback, will he have the strongest protection he’s ever had?


  • None

Key Additions:

  • Orlando Brown Jr.

The Cast

Projected Starters:

  • Left Tackle: Orlando Brown Jr
  • Left Guard: Cordell Volson
  • Center: Ted Karris
  • Right Guard: Alex Cappa
  • Right Tackle: Jonah Williams “Maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me.” - Oasis “Wonderwall”

Each of the players above will get several chances to save Joe Burrow and the Bengals this season, but let’s start with the new addition.

Orlando Brown Jr. is a tremendous football player. In his time with the Chiefs and the Ravens, he performed at the same high level in two very different systems. He is a massive addition for the Bengals that improves them at two positions. Left tackle and right tackle.

Until last season, Jonah Williams was the best offensive lineman on this team every year he suited up for them. In fact, he was the best lineman on their Super Bowl roster two years ago.

Playing injured last season, he struggled. A lot of attention is given to the number of sacks he gave up, but that number is misleading and demonstrates a lack of understanding of pass protection by those who compiled it (he was blamed for three sacks by players who he was not responsible for blocking and another where the chip block aided the pass-rusher).

Still, it was a down year. Moving to the right side and playing next to Alex Cappa could be a big part of his comeback season.

So if Williams wasn’t the best line on the team last year, who was it?

It was Cappa, hands down. He is the best interior lineman this staff has seen in Cincinnati. Cappa, whose 2022 season was cut short by an ankle injury just before the playoffs, is also looking to bounce back.

Did I say the Brown signing makes them better at two positions?

Silly me, I should have said three.

Brown has talked about how important it is to build a bond with the guard next two him. In the past, he has played next to the likes of Joe Thuney and Marshal Yanda, arguably the best guards in the last decade of the NFL. In Cincinnati, he’ll be lined up next to second-year player Cordell Volson.

Volson was a fourth-round pick and a Week 1 starter as a rookie last year and showed consistent improvement throughout the season. Volson was primarily a right tackle in college, so bumping inside and across the formation was a big transition for him.

With a full offseason preparing in this system at the left guard position, he could be poised for a big jump in performance in Year 2. Playing next to the talented and highly intelligent Brown will certainly aid in Volson’s development as well.

Ted Karras is the anchor of the Bengals’ offensive line and a true leader in the trenches. He has an excellent head on his shoulders, and there’s always a fantastic hat on that head. That’s why he’s not only the number one center in Cincinnati, he’s the number one milliner with The Cincy Hat.

With Karras, you don’t have to worry about development, a position change, or a return from a 2022 injury, and he has experience in the system. This consistency is particularly important given the center’s role in setting protections and defining the “Mike” linebacker, essentially getting everyone on the same page as far as blocking is concerned.


  • Versatile Tackle/Guards: Hakeem Adeniji, Cody Ford
  • Tackles: La’el Collins, Jackson Carman, De’Ante Smith, Devin Cochran
  • Guards: Max Scharping, Jaxson Kirkland, Nate Gilliam
  • Centers: Trey Hill, Ben Brown

The Right Tackle Battle Royale

The right tackle battle is really a series of independent battles. Everyone involved has their own demons to slay, so let’s look at each of the contenders’ specific battles.

Jonah Williams vs. Position Change

They’re calling it a competition, but it’s really Jonah’s job to lose.

There is, however, the matter of moving from left tackle to right tackle. What’s the big deal about that? Well, some compare it to brushing your teeth with one hand for your entire life, then having to start brushing with the other.

That’s not really the case with Williams, though. As a freshman at Alabama in 2016, he started at right tackle. True, that was seven years ago, but if you broke your arm seven years ago and had to brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand for a month or so, don’t you think you’d get pretty good at it? If the mood struck you and you decided to try it again tonight, don’t you think you’d be able to do it just fine despite the passing of time?

I think you would.

Williams has played right tackle successfully in the SEC. He will need to knock the rust off, but it will come back to him.

La’el Collins vs. Injury Recovery

If Collins was healthy and active, this could be a real competition, but unfortunately, he is still rehabbing his knee. There is hope that the time off will help him deal with the back issue that limited him a year ago as well.

Just typing this makes me cringe. It’s a shame when players have to deal with so many injuries. Hopefully, he gets healthy and back to his old self, but it will take time for him to be comfortable again.

Unfortunately, there will likely be more injuries up front this year. Collins is a pretty amazing trump card to have in your back pocket.

Jackson Carman vs. Himself

Carman, like Williams, is switching positions.

The Bengals tried him at right guard in his first year, and he started at left tackle when Williams got hurt last year, but he hasn’t played right tackle.

Carman was serviceable at right tackle last year, which is definitely a step up from what he did as a right guard the year before, but he was far from where you’d be comfortable going into the season with him as the starter. He looked stiff and struggled to deal with speed on the edge.

After reports that he did not come into camp with good conditioning as a rookie, it is good to see him looking lean going into 2023, but he has to prove it with pads on.

Other Battles

Hakeem Adeniji vs. Cody Ford

Technically Adeniji and Ford are in the battle for the starting right tackle spot, but it’s more likely that one fills the role of “experienced versatile backup.”

Both can play guard and tackle. The staff knows and trusts Adenij, but Ford may be a better scheme fit for what this offense has evolved into over the last year.

Adeniji moves well; Ford moves people.

Trey Hill vs. Ben Brown

The Bengals actually have some good, experienced depth on the offensive line, but the backup center is a bit of an unknown.

Hill has been with the team since 2021, when the team selected him in the sixth round. He has some explosiveness, but he has seen limited action in that time.

Brown expected to get drafted but signed with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent last year. Unfortunately, a biceps injury shut down his first season as a pro.

Brown did some really nice things in pass protection on film. He has the potential to push Hill for the C2 job.

Dark Horse

This year the Bengals added another UDFA who has some positive buzz around him, and that’s Jaxson Kirkland.

Kirkland intended to enter the draft a year ago, but a serious ankle injury derailed his plans. He was not ready for the start of the 2022 season at Washington but came back in Week 4 as the starting left tackle. A week later, they bumped him inside to guard.

Kirkland is extremely experienced as s five-year starter and very versatile, having played two seasons at right guard, two more at left tackle, and rounded out his career with a season at left guard.

Though he lacks NFL experience, his versatility could get him into the Adeniji/Ford competition. One wonders if he will learn to snap and try to get into the Hill/Brown contest and be a truly versatile piece for offensive line coach Frank Pollack.

2023 Outlook

Adding Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, Cordell Volson, and La’el Collins, the Bengals replaced four of five Super Bowl starters before the start of last season. Jonah Williams was the lone carryover. Injuries prevented them from becoming a cohesive unit during training camp, but until Collins was carted off the field at Gillette Stadium on Christmas Eve, the group remained intact and built a strong rapport.

In 2023, Cappa, Karras, and Volson all return to their previous roles. Collins is still recovering from injury, and Williams will slide into his spot while getting used to Cappa as a blocking partner. Still, the only new face is Orlando Brown, who might just be the best player in the group.

The Bengals took a big step up in the talent department by adding Brown, but the continuity of the rest of the group may be even more important.

This is also one of the deepest units on the team.

Players like Hakeem Adeniji, Max Scharping, and Cody Ford have NFL starting experience and are extremely valuable as backups, yet it’s entirely likely that one of them gets cut.

Jackson Carman, Jaxson Kirkland, De’Ante Smith, and Devin Cochran all have impressive tools that the Bengals are hoping to develop. The backup center is the only real question mark, which is a crazy statement when you think about the line this team had two years ago.

The Future

I am a Jonah Williams believer from way back, but I don’t think he is a great fit for what this offense has developed into, and I think he will have a strong market in 2024. Even before the Orlando Brown signing, I was hoping the team would draft his heir apparent to develop in 2023. That didn’t happen, so right tackle could be a big question heading into next offseason.

The rest of the unit, however, should stay intact. Again, continuity and cohesiveness on the offensive line play a large role in a team’s success, so this is huge.

Karras’s contract expires in 2025. The same is true of potential right tackles La’el Collins and Jackson Carman. Guards Cappa and Volson are due for new contracts in 2026 and the team has Brown locked up until 2027.