Last year, offensive line coach Paul Alexander watched his long-time leader Willie Anderson mosey out of Georgetown College to give way to the franchise-tagged Stacy Andrews. In the off-season, Andrews was set free to give way to first-rounder Andre Smith. If training camp starts without Smith signed and on the field, then Smith gives way to another young tackle-—second-year player, Anthony Collins. And from there, no one knows.
But once Willie was cut, this is what we wanted, right? Levi was damaged and no longer usable, Andrews was mediocre on his better days and Ghiacuic was light and pillowy. Backups were installed and the run-game improved. We should have played these guys all season, we told one another with back slaps and clinking glasses; the future is a bright a one after all.
The joviality continued on draft day with the announcement that the Bengals had selected the Alabama goliath to assist the ragtag bunch up front on offense.
But then reports began to surface of how Smith was changing his agents the way teens change their Facebook status, and suddenly the possibility of a hold-out increased. Nervous eyes shifted; hands were wrung. They’re still wringing.
Yet Smith says all the right things publicly about how he wants and expects to be in training camp on time and looks forward to a deal getting done soon. One doesn’t need a personal adviser to know that in Marvin Lewis’ camp, if you’re unable to be on the field in practice then you’re unable to play in games—it truly is that simple. It makes sense that he wants to be in camp on time, but the real question is, does he want the money more?
If Smith makes it to the miniature campus of Georgetown College on time for the hot two-a-day practices and rookie-hazing pranks that he’s sure to love, then he’ll likely line up at tackle on the first snap in Week 1. If he basks in the air conditioning of his home and eats while his team fights through training camp, a player like Nate Livings could be named as a starter and Cedric Benson might then begin to worry (some depth charts have Livings starting even with Smith in there, and have Whitworth at left tackle and Anthony Collins backing up Smith on the right side. Complete nonsense, if you ask me. Why would you move Whitworth from a spot he seems to excel at and move him to a spot where he’s struggled? And, while we’re asking questions in a rant, why would you bench Anthony Collins after he impressed everyone after taking over for Levi Jones last season? Nonsense, I say!).
With or without Smith, the offensive line will be young, and untested—the kind of line that the Steelers & Ravens climb out of bed to investigate. With him, Bratkowski can take comfort in centering the run behind the big rookie. Without him, Brat might have to challenge his creative mind more than he’d like to.
Either way, the longtime heavyweight, Bobbie Williams, has been shoved into the role of the line’s leader and hopefully the youngsters can stop laughing at his jokes long enough to actually learn something from him. Opposing defenses will try to trick the inexperienced crew into giving up sacks and it’s up to Big Bobbie to identify some of that before it strikes.
Like Levi & Willie during the offenses’ heyday, Smith & Collins could become the next installment of permanent bookends, but it will take time for them to blossom to the level we enjoyed only five seasons ago. Having Smith in training camp could help Paul Alexander get this unit into serviceable shape in a relatively short time-frame, but even so, some growing pains should be expected.