It is no secret that improving the offensive line should be a priority for the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason. However, their approach to doing that thus far is likely a bit surprising to some. Despite only playing in nine full games before injury struck, Joe Burrow was still among the most hit quarterbacks in the NFL last year.
Cincinnati has only added one new face to the offensive line during the 2021 offseason. Offensive tackle Riley Reiff is a good player and a former Vikings team captain. Reiff will turn 33 in December. He is a short-term stopgap. No one player is going to fix this offensive line.
With no buzz about Cincinnati adding additional protection for Burrow via free agency, it is clear that the Bengals are banking on two things for the necessary offensive line improvement.
What Bengals can do in the NFL draft
Cincinnati can not put a group that looks anything like last year’s offensive line back on the field in 2021 and not expect Burrow to get hurt again. Adding Reiff and getting rid of old cast members like guard Bobby Hart isn’t enough, The Bengals will add top offensive line prospects via the draft.
It may be OTs Penei Sewell of Oregon with the fifth pick or Alex Leatherwood of Alabama at pick 38 or both. However it happens, the youth movement upfront is inevitable. Cincinnati’s recent draft history with offensive linemen is spotty at best.
Bengals draftees, center Billy Price in 2018, Michael Jordan in 2020 and Cedric Ogbuehi in 2015 no doubt make some fans nervous about this approach. For better or worse, it is a major part of the plan to help the position group.
The Frank Pollack effect
Frank Pollack returns as the Bengals offensive line coach after spending one season in the role in 2018. He replaces the much-maligned Jim Turner. Turner’s previous coaching stints with the Dolphins and at Texas A&M ended with bullying and harassment scandals respectively.
Turner came to Cincinnati with a shady past and his offensive line contributed to getting the franchise quarterback’s knee torn up. Turner was a large part of the problem for the Bengals offensive line. Pollack’s return was well received by Joe Mixon.
Mixon had his career-best rushing yardage total running behind Pollack’s line in 2018. The Bengals are betting big on Pollack to better develop the new linemen that come in and to get more out of what is already on the roster.
The Bengals organization can be blind to its issues at times, but even they must be aware that the offensive line is their key weak spot right now. Only time will tell if the choice not to spend prime free agency money addressing that weakness was a wise one.