Cincinnati Bengals: How They Can Fix the Offensive Line

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 22: Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals yells during a game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on September 22, 2019 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 22: Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals yells during a game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on September 22, 2019 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Bengals have talent and depth at a lot of positions. However, their offensive line has been dragging the team down for a few years now. Here’s how they can fix the position group. 

Ever since allowing Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler to walk in free agency, the Bengals have been facing the harsh reality of the NFL. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have at other positions, you just can’t compete without a solid offensive line.

The small scouting department has proven over the years that they can’t adequately identify legitimate offensive line prospects coming out of the college ranks. They have missed on players like Cedric Ogbuehi , Jake Fisher, Russell Bodine, Christian Westerman, and more in recent drafts.

Beyond that, a lot of turnover in recent years at the offensive line coaching position has complicated things further. The team let go of long time coach Paul Alexander and made a great hire in Frank Pollack, but fired him a year later in favor of the highly controversial Jim Turner. Young offensive linemen have a difficult time adjusting to the NFL without the added difficulty of getting used to a new coach almost every year

The first step in fixing the offensive line is simple. Bengals decision makers need to take a good hard look in the mirror and evaluate themselves. They have fallen victim to their own loyalty by allowing players to stick around who weren’t performing at a starter level in hopes that they would develop eventually.

For example, Cincinnati thrusted Bodine into a starting position for years. As soon as he left the safety of the Bengals, he has bounced around the league. It got so bad that the Patriots cut him just one week after trading for him.

Now the same thing is unfolding with players like Bobby Hart. There is nothing Bengals brass can realistically do about it now, but they had the opportunity to do something about it before trotting him out there and watching Dalton get pressured play after play.

They could have acknowledged that they had a huge hole at the right tackle position and taken steps to fill that need. Instead, they rewarded Hart with a three year contract extension. They cannot afford to make the same mistakes moving forward.

At 0-4 with 12 games left to play, plenty of reps should go to the young offensive linemen for evaluation. Perhaps, they have a diamond in the rough ready to follow the same development trajectory of Trey Hopkins, but there is only one way to find out

Next, they need to identify their offensive line coach of the future. The answer to that question feels obvious, Bill Callahan. He is among the best coaches in the league at his position, especially in developing young players.

The former Raiders head coach would also help in the draft room to direct the front office at the position. Zac Taylor tried to poach him this past off season from the Redskins, but the move was blocked. He was still under contract. There are no sure things in the NFL, but with his contract set to expire after this season, it seems like he would be eager to unite with current Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, who just so happens to be his son.

it is also vital to sign at least one starter worthy free agent in the trenches before the 2020 draft. This is where things get tricky. Sometimes players get overpaid and teams handcuff themselves to them to appease fans. This is something happening often in today’s NFL, which is starved for offensive line talent. Still, the team needs to take a more aggressive approach than they have in the past. Identify their targets and go get them.

Many fans see this as wishful thinking rather than an actual possibility, and rightfully so. Still, the team did go out and sign John Miller this off season. He hasn’t been a superstar guard, but he has been solid. They need more of the same in the future until they can find longer term fixes.

Finally, they need to scour the trade market. Not much is available given how many teams are hurting for offensive linemen, but some options are on the table.  If the Redskins get desperate in the Trent Williams hold out and give him up for a mid round pick, the Bengals need to be in that mix.

However, Washington shouldn’t give up anything more than a third round pick. Given their record, those picks are too valuable, no matter how good Williams is. To all the fans who think the Bengals won’t make a trade, let me remind you they pulled a major transaction to acquire Cordy Glenn.

All of this paints a grim picture of the Bengals offensive line. While things aren’t going great, keep in mind, the team has Jonah Williams recovering as well. With his obvious talent, discipline, and preparation he should give the unit a huge boost, whenever he returns.

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It is a winding and complicated road that leads to fixing the Cincinnati offensive line. With some luck, player development magic from Callahan, aggressiveness in free agency/the draft, and health, the Bengals can regain the good group in the offensive trenches that they once had. It looks increasingly likely that they draft a young quarterback soon, fixing the offensive line becomes all the more important if that proves true.