Tackling Right Tackle

Fans of the Cincinnati Bengals might have been expected to kvetch about the news that top pick Andre Smith is being installed at right tackle in spring camps. But generally speaking, they haven’t. If anything, more eyebrows have been raised by the decision to move LG Andrew Whitworth to LT and not leave Anthony Collins at the spot where he started the final six games of 2008.

But Smith at RT? The Chickster has it right: “As for the right side of the line — RG Bobbie Williams and RT Andre Smith — that’s 677 pounds of Ground Brat waiting to blow open holes for tailback Cedric Benson.”

And so, with the fans uninterested in condemning the move, who can we count on to step into the breach? Yes, that’s right — ESPN’s dingbat AFC North blogger, James Walker, who proposes that it’s all a conspiracy by the notoriously cheap Bengals to avoid paying Smith left tackle money.

I think even Walker realized how laughable the argument was while he was making it, given that by the end of his blatherings he’s reduced to saying that “cheap” Cincinnati might be looking to shave $3 million or $4 million off a $50 million-plus deal. Hey, I got news for ya, James: Mike Brown is going to try to do that anyhow, no matter what position Smith plays.

The reality is that the old “LT is more important than RT” argument, upon which Walker’s whole theory is based, has been losing validity for years. And in the AFC North, where the league’s top two defenses currently reside, the distinction is effectively nonexistent; Pittsburgh and Baltimore have enough pass-rushing threats to require excellence from tackle to tackle. The Bengals had that in 2005 and that’s probably the No. 1 reason they made the playoffs. Since then, they haven’t, and they’ve struggled.

In short, there’s no question that Smith was worth the draft pick and the money even if he plays right tackle. The only question is, can he play right tackle in the NFL? I believe so, but that remains to be proven nonetheless.

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