Before drafting Kevin Zeitler in the first round 2012 NFL Draft, the last first-round selection that the Cincinnati Bengals had spent on an offensive lineman was right tackle Andre Smith, the sixth-overall selection. Smith struggled with weight, health and the complexities of the NFL game until, years later, he finally became the elite tackle that we expected in 2012.
Zeitler, who lines up next to Smith at right guard, only took weeks, instead of years, to make the same transition.
Of course, Smith was a blue-chip player, while Zeitler was heavily underrated coming out of Wisconsin. Both carried the reputation of mauling road-graders with heavy hands, but Zeitler hit his stride after the Week 8 bye, coinciding with the Bengals five-week stretch of rushing for at least 125 yards per game.
And this was hardly a coincidence.
At the beginning of the season, Zeitler, like many rookies, looked a step slow, thinking instead of reacting. We knew he was capable of filling the enormous void left by Bobbie Williams, but in addition to the normal power blocking that the Bengals were used to seeing, offensive coordinator begin working in zone blocking elements into the offense.
When it came to power blocking, Zeitler began the season on brute strength alone. As the season progressed, however, he began to excel in using leverage to get underneath the pads of his opponents, eventually pushing Pittsburgh’s behemoth nose tackle, Casey Hampton, downfield consistently in Week 16.