5 options for Bengals starting left guard job ahead of 2022 season

Jackson Carman, Cincinnati Bengals (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jackson Carman, Cincinnati Bengals (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

Who should play left guard for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2022? Time to look through some options. 

“Protect the franchise.” Hasn’t that been the repeated mantra of the Cincinnati Bengals fan base since Joe Burrow was selected first overall in 2020? Hasn’t that been the cry every time we see him feel pressure, take a hit, or suffer a knee injury?

Sure, the Bengals front office finally tried to do something about it this offseason, shelling out big bucks for Alex Cappa, La’el Collins, and Ted Karras. But was it enough? I say no.

Although the offensive line as a whole has been a huge problem since Joey Brr arrived in town, the biggest issue – and the one the team has done the least to address – has been left guard.  Burrow’s season in 2020 was ended by pressure given up by the left guard (we don’t miss you, Michael Jordan) and the Super Bowl was ended by – you guessed it! – a sack given up by the left guard (we do kinda miss you, Quinton Spain).

Heading into this season, left guard remains the team’s biggest question mark. Let’s check out some potential options for the team as the regular season inches closer.

5. Jackson Carman

It seems that the team badly wants Carman to win the job. They selected him in the second round of last year’s draft with the intention of making him the right guard (not the left guard) of the future. They thought his size and power would be ideal to be a road-grader in the trenches.

Now, that was obviously a terrible idea, because Carman was a college left tackle who had never played right guard a day in his life; it is generally a poor process to ask a guy to do something completely different than what he was asked to do in college. It is reminiscent of the episode of “Hard Knocks” years ago where team owner Mike Brown suggested to the coaching staff to convert DT Jason Shirley to tight end. The dumbfounded look on the faces of the coaches was absolutely priceless.

Unsurprisingly, the Carman experiment has not gone well. He got into the doghouse early with the coaching staff and had to work his way up from the bottom of the depth chart. He got only six starts during the regular season and was generally unimpressive. Per Pro Football Focus, he graded out at a disgusting 56.3.

Things haven’t gone much better this preseason, as he has been permanently moved to left guard following the team’s decision not to re-sign Quinton Spain. In this past Friday’s preseason game against Arizona, he was the only “starter” seeing meaningful work, and his performance was just pathetic. There were 362 offensive linemen who had a pass-blocking snap in this week’s preseason games; Carman’s pass-blocking grade (19.3) ranked 348th.

Only 14 guys in the league are worse at pass-blocking than Jackson Carman. Let that sink in. A sizeable majority of the dudes who graded higher than him are going to be working in jobs outside of football after cutdown day in a few weeks.

Against the Cardinals backups, Jackson Carman was worse at pass-blocking than just about anybody we’d be able to pick up off the street. If he winds up the starter at left guard, it’s because of the draft capital the team invested in him, not because of his performance.  He’s been bad.

4. Lamont Gaillard

It’s hard to make a case for Gaillard. He is listed as No. 3 on the depth chart and has been continuously abused in practice (some of those great Zach Carter practice reps you’ve been hearing about have come at Gaillard’s expense).

If there’s a case to be made for Gaillard, it’s that (a) he’s got (some) starting experience from his time with the Cardinals, and (b) he’s versatile enough to play multiple positions. The team seems to like him and is playing him all over the line, but it seems they like him more as a reserve who can back up at multiple spots than as a starter.

3. Cordell Volson

Volson, the rookie out of North Dakota State, was somewhat of a surprising pick in the fourth round of this year’s draft. He’s currently second on the depth chart behind Carman, and presumably would be the first man up if Carman can’t hack it.

I’m not in love with tossing a fourth-round rookie into the fire, but if he’s the best option, so be it.  For what it’s worth, his pre-draft testing was fascinating. He started out as a guy whose athletic measurables were a huge red flag at the combine. At his Pro Day, it was an entirely different story, as he tested as an elite guard.

I’ve never seen an offensive lineman’s numbers improve as much as his did. If he can play to the level of his athletic testing, the Bengals may have their long-term solution at the position.

2. Ereck Flowers

It’s hard to understand why this dude is still a free agent. He’s a former top-10 draft pick who was converted to guard and had an above-average 72.0 PFF grade last year. Given his background, he’s also got the ability to play left tackle in a pinch, should something happen to Jonah Williams.

There is zero reason not to sign this guy to an incentive-laden one-year deal right now. The team has $16M in cap space, per Over the Cap. Give Flowers $6 million with another $2 million in incentives and get him in the building.

Who wouldn’t be excited about blocking for Joey Franchise? Given the terrible teams he’s played for in his career (New York, Jacksonville, Miami, Washington), you’d think Flowers be ecstatic to play for a winner. This makes too much sense, which almost assures it won’t happen.

1. Quinton Spain

Hello, old friend! Spain solidified the right guard spot when he came over in 2020, and he held it down until he broke down during the final play of the Super Bowl.

Is he a player in decline? Yes, absolutely.

Did his play tail off down the stretch? Sure it did.

Does he represent an upgrade on Jackson Carman? Without question.

Does he know the playbook already? You’re darn right he does!

You’d have to think the team is keeping Spain’s number on speed dial and will look to bring him in after final cuts if Carman doesn’t progress as they have hoped. Spain isn’t a “solution” at left guard at this point in his career, but he is a band-aid, and what they need right now is a band-aid.

Plus, last year he was probably the second-best player on the line behind Williams. This year, he would be the fifth-best. The Bengals can work with that and better yet, they can win with that.

Spain would seemingly welcome a homecoming. During the game on Friday, he tweeted out a photo of the Cincinnati skyline.

Quinton, we miss you, big guy and we want to bring you home.

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