Earning Their Stripes: Part II – Drawing a Line

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Head Coach Marvin Lewis was quoted last month saying that the offensive line has an, “…opportunity for some real, true depth.”  With the last minute signing of starting right tackle Andre Smith and the decision to retain veteran guard Travelle Wharton, Coach Lewis’s appraisal of the situation may even be considered a bit of an understatement.  With three offensive linemen taken on the backside of this years’ NFL Draft, depth is exactly what the Bengals are looking to go after, but with fifteen players vying for those positions on the roster at this time, both rookies and veteran alike will have to step up if they want to make the final 53.

Dec 13, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler (68) blocks Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Cedric Thornton (72) during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. The Bengals defeated the Eagles 34-13. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

In the past the Bengals have gotten away with taking 9 offensive linemen onto the final roster, opting for a guard/center or tackle/guard hybrid in order to increase depth at other positions; however, this year it would not be surprising if Cincinnati decided to take a starter and a backup at each position in addition to an amalgamation in one of those reserve roles.  A couple reasons why this makes sense – first, both Wharton and veteran center Kyle Cook have been shown to be injury prone, and second, with the amount of experience that these veteran players have, increasing exposure to as much potential talent in your young ranks is the smart part of the investment and continuity.  Further, it shouldn’t be a shock if at least one of these guys ends up on the practice squad as a placeholder.

At this point some roster spots are all but spoken.  Andrew Whitworth (LT), Andre Smith (RT) and Kevin Zeitler (G) are as close to locks as one can get, and with Travelle Wharton (G) it can be assumed that by retaining his services to the tune of $3.375M a year that he is intended to be kept as well.  Same line of logic would retain Kyle Cook (C) despite his abysmal play during the past several years.  Strangely enough, these five have the initial markings of the starting lineup.

However, the up-and-comers may have a say in all this.  Clint Boling (G) may be forced into the back seat by Wharton, but his play as a starter all last season was nothing short of outstanding for a 23-year old sophomore project from Georgia.  He’ll easily earn a seat at the table.  Same for Trevor Robinson (G/C).  The undrafted rookie took over as the third string center last season and was the only productive starter at that position.  However, past that, it’s a crap shoot.