The Bengals’ offensive line was recently ranked as the 8th-best in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. They graded as the best pass-blocking unit but the 25th-best run-blocking group. This was before Kevin Zeitler’s impressive performance against the Steelers, and the ranking was probably hampered by the lack of help from BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Jay Gruden’s play calling.
But the men in the trenches are a great strength for the Bengals, and have truly played up to their overall ranking thus far. Despite Andy Dalton’s periodic discomfort in the pocket, Cincinnati’s group has kept him clean. As Zeitler improves, Gruden will continue to put more faith in his right-side road graders and the running game will, with any luck, improve from abysmal to average.
Left Tackle: Andrew Whitworth
Big Whit has long been a favorite of many fans, including myself. His development has been commendable. He began as a backup left tackle, replacing Levi Jones in a 2006 game against the Colts. Dwight Freeny beat him like a drum, sacking Carson Palmer three times and pressuring him on other occasions. His long arms and huge frame gave him the ideal size, but his footwork was less than ideal to protect the blind side and he spent some time at guard.
He has become one of the most severely underrated left tackles in the game. His footwork has improved by leaps and bounds, and he now combines his powerful punch, long limbs and savvy play to be an outstanding pass blocker. A knee injury last season robbed him of much of his power, however, and he has struggled in the running game to drive a defender out of the hole and sometimes can be taken advantage by a bull rush to his inside.
What he does offer, however, is great footwork, technique and know-how. Even if he can not clear out a hole like he formerly could, it is hard to full Whit on a stunt or disguised blitz. He can mirror a speed rusher and has helped transition left guard Clint Boling into an unexpected starting role.
Left Guard: Clint Boling
As mentioned, Boling was thrown into the line-up after a knee injury ended free-agent signing Travelle Wharton’s season before it truly began. Boling did not impress last season in some spot-starts replacing Bobbie Williams at right guard, which likely prompted the Kevin Zeitler selection in this year’s draft.
Instead of being paired with a young tackle still finding his footing, Andre Smith, or an overachieving but physically limited backup, Dennis Roland, Boling now shares a side with a talented tackle in Whitworth. With Whit’s help, Boling has done a better job recognizing stunts when pass blocking.To Boling’s credit, he has improved by leaps and bounds in his technique this season. He plays with better bend in his legs, giving him improved leverage in both phases of blocking. He scrapes down the line quickly when pulling on a power-running play and can track down a defender in the open field. He keeps his weight centered and keeps his feet under him, allowing him to anchor well and maintain his position against his opponent.
Although offensive line coach Paul Alexander often talks up his guys to the press, gushing about any little thing, his comments about Boling after this offseason were spot on. Boling is the most improved player on the Bengals and it seems that he has become comfortable with the speed of the NFL.