As the offseason activity dies down and we roll towards the promise of football again under the summer sun, let us look to the future! Bengals Gab will be looking at each of the individual position groups on the team over the next several days, providing readers with a grade on each and a primer as mini-camps, training camp, and the preseason approaches.
Next up, the big uglies—the offensive line.
The play of the offensive line in 2009 was perhaps the biggest reason for the team’s turnaround. At the end of 2008, the once-formidable group was in shambles. Aside from the steady play of RG Bobbie Williams, every other position was up for grabs and in need of upgrades.
The running game was unreliable, and the passing game was non-existent. The team had not had a bona fide starting-quality center since Richie Braham. The tackles, once considered a team strength, were suddenly a huge question mark. Worst of all, it appeared the team was going to fill the voids in a typical way (read: insufficient).
Starting guard Andrew Whitworth was moved to left tackle, a position he was supposedly not suited for and one he hadn’t played since his rookie season in 2006. Nate Livings, a college free agent and Whitworth’s former teammate at LSU, was brought up to take over at left guard. Kyle Cook, another untested former college free agent, was installed as the starter at center. They did try to address the position in free agency (Evan Mathis) and spent their first round pick on Alabama behemoth Andre Smith. Center Jonathan Luigs was brought in from the draft as well.
Things looked bleak.
Nonetheless, Whitworth became a solid blind-side protector, Livings and Mathis platooned at left guard, Anthony Collins and Dennis Roland held down the right tackle spot until Smith was ready and Bobbie Williams was his usual steady self at right guard. Best of all, Bengals Gabbie award winner Kyle Cook became a sturdy, reliable, smart, and feisty center. They quickly built a rapport under Cook’s leadership, and what was once a perceived weakness became the clear strength of the offense.
Cedric Benson and the running game took off, and the line provided admirable protection to QB Carson Palmer.
Team brass re-signed unrestricted free agent Bobbie Williams, and restricted free agent Evan Mathis. The signings ensured that the entire 2009 line would return in 2010, along with the additions of draft picks Otis Hudson and Reggie Stephens.
Overall Position Group Grade: A-
Look for Whitworth to hold down the LT spot again in 2010, along with Evan Mathis at LG, Cook at center, Williams at RG, and Smith at RT. This group should only improve upon their showing last year, with Andre Smith having a full offseason of conditioning and a year’s experience behind him. If Smith can become the man-beast he was at Alabama, and the talent that made him the sixth overall pick, the offensive line will be even better in 2010.
Anthony Collins, Nate Livings, Jonathan Luigs, and Dennis Roland all provide solid, veteran depth. It will be tough for Hudson or Stephens to stick on the roster.
Offensive line coach Paul Alexander is an underrated assistant who has earned a great deal of respect within the organization and in league circles.
Overall, the team retained all five starters and all the key reserves, while also bringing in some young players to provide competition and added depth to an already strong and well-coached unit.