Since 2011, the Cincinnati Bengals have approached the NFL Draft with a focus on selecting players who the team can groom for the future and continue to have their cabinets filled. The most recent instance came last year when the team took offensive tackles in the first two rounds of the draft, highlighted by first rounder, Cedric Ogbuehi.
After a redshirt year of sorts while rehabbing a knee injury he suffered in his final collegiate season, Ogbuehi is gunning for the starting right tackle spot after Andre Smith left for the Vikings in free agency. And, if we're taking offensive line coach Paul Alexander at his word, he has the inside track over 2015 second rounder, Jake Fisher.
"He’ll be one of the five," Alexander said referring to Ogbuehi potentially starting in 2016, via Bengals.com. "He’s got rare quickness and athleticism and he’s got ideal physical, athletic and competitive traits. He’s the real deal, the real package...His quickness was even more impressive live. I never saw him in front of my eyes. I don’t think we ever drafted a guy I didn’t see in front of my eyes. He was obviously on crutches."
Ogbuehi flashed these traits in limited work through seven games last year (including the postseason), mostly lining up as an extra tackle in jumbo packages. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth knows a thing or two about quality play at the position and sees another good one in Ogbuehi.
"I think right or left (Ogbuehi) has the potential to be one of the greats," Whitworth told Geoff Hobson. "He’s got that kind of feet, athleticism and power.
"Unfortunately for the injury, I think Stacy (Andrews) might have been a special one. A guy like Willie (Anderson) was an all-timer. A guy like Andre (Smith) played the position well for a while. He’s got good guys to watch film. Andre, Willie, and big Stacy and I’ll help him with what I can help him with. (Ogbuehi) is just like them. Big, strong, long arms, good feet. He’s got all that. Now it’s going to be putting his feet in the ground, working and grinding with his head down and putting in the time."
His respect for Whitworth is mutual, noting his studying of Whitworth on tape and how he goes about preparing every week. At Texas A&M, Ogbuehi was a left tackle late in his career, but started out as a guard and right tackle in his early years. And with a year of pro coaching under his belt, Ogbuehi feels comfortable with playing a pro position he hasn't lined up at in a couple of years.
"I was in a stance pretty much all of my rehab, so this is the most I’ve ever done it," Ogbuehi said. "I’ve just got to get used to the speed of the game and the strength of the players. It helped me playing at the end of the year because I got a chance to feel it. Feel the speed. They’re all strong and fast. You have to be ready for it."
Similar to what veteran defensive end Michael Johnson experienced last year, Ogbuehi is excited about 2016 because of his health compared to last year. Though he started off the year on the PUP List, it wasn't a definite that Ogbuehi would get any playing time last year as he continued to rehab the ACL injury he suffered in the last game of his college career.
"It just feels good to be here with healthy knees," Ogbuehi said. "Last year the mentality was just to get healthy. I knew I wasn’t going to play much. This year, the mentality is I’m a starter, so I have to work hard, gotta get in the playbook and do different things to get ready."
As Whitworth noted, Ogbuehi has big shoes to fill from previous right tackles in this franchise. While Smith had his ups and downs in his seven Bengals seasons, he largely played sound football in his past few seasons and was a big reason for Jeremy Hill's breakout rookie campaign of 2014.
Still, an area where Smith struggled was against some of the quicker edge rushers he faced, as well as struggles with weight issues. The Bengals hope Ogbuehi can muster the same type of run blocking prowess Smith showed over the years--especially in getting to the second level of the defense. If he can do that, while also bringing a bit of increased athleticism in pass protection, the Bengals should have the next great right tackle in the franchise's long line of players at the position.