With the start of training camps inching ever closer, we continue our look now at the offensive line situations in the AFC North. Yesterday we scouted the Baltimore Ravens offensive line and today we move forward with our look at the Cincinnati Bengals offensive line depth chart. The Bengals play the Pittsburgh Steelers in weeks 7 and 16 this year.
The Bengals offensive line ranked tied for fourth in fewest sacks allowed last season but just 19th in rushing yards per game. Gone from last year are starting guards Bobbie Williams, who signed with the Ravens, and Nate Livings, who signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Also not returning for the Bengals this season is backup center Mike McGlynn, who signed with the Indianapolis Colts.
The Bengals did address the guard turnover this offseason by drafting right guard Kevin Zeitler in the first round of the draft, and by signing free agent left guard Travelle Wharton, who was discarded by the Carolina Panthers.
Let\'s now have a look at the projected offensive line starters and reserves for 2012 Bengals.
LT Andrew Whitworth - Whitworth enters his seventh year in the league and has started all 16 games for the Bengals the last three seasons at left tackle. Over those last three years he has allowed just 11 regular season sacks and in 2011 he gave up just 3 quarterback hits and 14 hurries in the regular season. He is considered one of the better left tackles in the game right now and shows no signs of slowing down at 30 years of age.
RT Andre Smith - Smith, the Bengals first round pick in the 2009 draft, is ever so slowly coming into his own now after injuries slowed him his first two seasons in the league. In 2011 Smith started 14 games at right tackle and allowed just 3 sacks. Smith is not a dominant run blocker though and was penalized eight times last season, six of which were for false starts.
C Kyle Cook - Cook tailed off performance wise at the end of the 2011 season. He has been the Bengals starting center since 2009 and has played in 48 straight regular season games over that span of time. He allowed just 1 quarterback sack last year, but will now work between two new guards this year with Williams and Livings moving on in free agency. Rebuilding the chemistry and communication inside will be vital to his success in 2012.
LG Travelle Wharton - Wharton was released by the Panthers back in March after starting 99 games in eight seasons for them at left guard. He is considered an upgrade over Livings, but is 31 years of age. Learning to communicate with a new center to his right should come quickly for Wharton in training camp and he reportedly has gotten quick a bit of reps during the offseason practices thus far to do just that. He is considered more athletic and physical than Livings was, so this should be an upgrade on the Bengals line.
RG Kevin Zeitler - The Bengals traded down in the first round this past April to draft the Wisconsin product. Zeitler is about 30 pounds lighter than his predecessor Williams, who was regarded as a pretty good run blocker. He of course lacks the experience, but is considered by many scouts as a plug and play type guard, much like David DeCastro for the Steelers. He presents one of the biggest question marks on the Bengals rebuilt line as a rookie.
T Anthony Collins - The Bengals resigned Collins, a backup tackle, to a two-year deal this offseason. A former fourth-round selection by the Bengals in 2008, Collins has started 18 of the 39 games played during his career, mostly at right tackle. He also has a handful of starts at left tackle to his credit that came during his rookie season when both Whitworth and Levi Jones were out with injuries. He offers the Bengals solid depth as a swing tackle and is just 26 years of age.
T Dennis Roland - Roland has played in every regular season game for the Bengals the last three seasons and was the starter at right tackle for most of the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Like Collins, he can play both tackle spots, but is best suited on the right. He is suspect in pass protection at times and does not always play up to his 6-foot-9 size. He does have experience though and that makes him an asset to the Bengals depth on the line as a former starter.
G/C Clint Boling - Boling was drafted by the Bengals in the fourth round of the 2011 draft and saw limited action at right guard his rookie season, where he struggled. He figures to be the primary backup to the rookie Zeitler at right guard in 2012 and could possibly see some snaps at center at left guard during the preseason to expand his versatility.
C/G Reggie Stephens - Stephens looks to try to be the Bengals backup to Cook at center unless Boling can make him expendable with his versatility. He was originally drafted by the Bengals in the seventh round of the 2010 draft after playing his college football for Iowa State. He has was inactive for his entire rookie season and waived by the Bengals last September. He was signed back to the roster late this past May.
G Otis Hudson - Hudson was drafted by the Bengals in the fifth round of the 2010 draft and has spent most of his time on the Bengals practice squad since then. He has yet to take an NFL snap yet and could be battling to make the Bengals 53 man roster as a swing guard in training camp.
Summation: The Bengals look pretty solid at the tackle position and that includes their depth with both Collins and Roland returning. Wharton is an upgrade at left guard over Livings in my opinion, so that leaves center and right guard as the two biggest question marks the Bengals have entering the season. The Bengals hope Zeitler is a mainstay for the long future, but he could have a few growing pains along the way. Cook is an average NFL center that relies heavily on the guard play next to him to be effective. The Bengals interior depth lacks both talent and experience, so they can not afford injuries inside as a result. Should the starting five stay healthy though, they could wind up being one of the better offensive lines in the league this season, especially if Zeitler makes his mark early on.