The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL when healthy, but they have one of the youngest and rawest group of linemen taking first-team reps right now with Andre smith, Andrew Whitworth, and Trevor Robinson all sitting out. In their absences, rookies Tanner Hawkinson, Reid Fragel and T.J. Johnson are getting plenty of reps with the starters, and Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden likes what he sees:
I think they’ve all done (well). They’re going to struggle. This a brand new pace and tempo to them. Hawkinson played at Kansas and Fragel at Ohio State, I understand that, and T.J. played at South Carolina but when you’re going against Michael Johnson and (Carlos) Dunlap, James Harrison and these guys every down, and Geno (Atkins), that’s a different ballgame for them.
They’ve done (well) for their first camp, so far, but they have to do a lot better, no question about it, to become the guys that we’re going to be excited about. We’re excited about the progress that they’ve made and the tools that they have but now it’s up them to get a little bit stronger and sharper mentally.
Speaking of Whitworth, he remains sidelined after offseason knee surgery, doesn’t mind missing out on the extra offseason work:
For me, physically, OTAs, there’s not a lot I can gain from them. So right now it’s about gaining conditioning, getting in shape and being able to physically get where I need to be before I step on the field.
It’s a lot of fun to be out there with (strength and conditioning coach) Chip (Morton) and (assistant) Jeff (Friday) and have them put you through all the concoctions they can come up with and workout. It’s kind of a new thing every day. Nick and I have been working together now for almost three months. It’s exciting. I feel really great about where I am.
Whitworth isn’t sure when he’ll return to the field, but isn’t exactly sweating it:
As of right now, it’s just day by day. I continue to get into the kind of football shape I need to be in. Anytime you have surgery that way, one, you are trying to get back physically, then two, now for me the time I missed where guys were working out this is my time to catch up shape-wise and conditioning and those type of things.