AFC North: Clint Boling

Bengals Camp Report: Day 7

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
6:30
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • As compelling, edge-of-your seat excitement goes, Thursday's practice, from an observer's standpoint, ranked somewhere around a 3 on a 0-to-10 scale. I'm sure it's possible for coaches and players to view it much differently. During what was a special teams-heavy workout, there were very few 11-on-11 drills that featured as much worth noting as there had been in days past. When the Bengals did get into offense vs. defense action, they did so at a rather conservative pace. There was no hitting (players were in shorts and shoulder pads for the second straight day), and plays were run at a significantly slower speed than how they'll be executed in games. We ought to point out that while the players might not have been running at the same speed they soon will be, they still got into a bit of a hurry-up pace as coaches had them go through a few two-minute-drill plays.
  • To be sure, a day like Thursday had probably long been on the schedule as the Bengals try to mix in light, low-speed days with their hit-filled afternoons. It couldn't have come at a better time, too. Cincinnati is dealing with a couple of camp injuries, including four players sidelined with head issues. Linebackers J.K. Schaffer and Jayson DiManche, offensive tackle Andre Smith and tight end Kevin Brock remained on concussion protocol.
  • One day after receiving medical clearance to practice again, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins was back on the sidelines. He didn't participate in any of Wednesday's team drills, only really taking part in the position-specific exercises that came before practice. Coach Marvin Lewis said Wednesday that Atkins wouldn't be rushed back into the line rotation. Coaches and trainers want to ease him back into the mix. When I asked defensive coordinator Paul Guenther after practice about Atkins, he indicated there wasn't anything to worry about. The day off was part of the slow process of getting Atkins back onto the field fully, he said.
  • To close out the day's injury report, it's worth noting that both Mike Pollak and Clint Boling took a day off. They had been trading off days at left guard until this point. In their place, undrafted free agent Trey Hopkins got repetitions at the position. Hopkins is beginning to look like the undrafted free agent who stands the best chance at making the 53-man roster. While Pollak and Boling didn't even dress, defensive tackle Domata Peko and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick did. Both participated fully in the practice after not working out Wednesday. Kirkpatrick hadn't practiced since Saturday.
  • As mentioned before, Day 7 was all about special teams. In particular, the Bengals were working on their kickoff coverage and kickoff returns. Routine deep kicks, squib kicks and onside kicks were part of what they practiced. After the bulk of the kickoff activities, in an 11-on-11, quarterback Andy Dalton was nearly perfect, going 9-for-10. His lone incompletion came when defensive end Robert Geathers broke up a pass at the line of scrimmage. Dalton might have had another incompletion had safety George Iloka been able to sprint at game speed. Iloka had closed on tight end Tyler Eifert, who barely caught a pass in the seam before Iloka pulled up. Later in that drill, on the very last play, came the highlight of the day. Seventh-round receiver James Wright, who didn't catch a pass last season at LSU, caught a key first-down pass on a third-and-5 play. A.J. Green gave him a high-five after the reception.
  • Up next: The Bengals won't practice until 6 p.m. Friday, in a workout that's open to the public.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 6

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
7:15
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Cincinnati Bengals training camp:
  • There's only one place to begin Wednesday's practice report: with the fireworks. Twice, members of the offense and defense had to be pulled apart as emotions and tensions ran high outwardly for the first time. First, linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and offensive guard Clint Boling came to blows at the end of a goal-line drill. Lamur was seen grabbing Boling's face mask as pushing and shoving ensued around them. A.J. Green then came in, appearing to help calm and subdue Lamur in the back of the end zone. The linebacker misinterpreted the Pro Bowl wideout's actions and swung a punch at him. Fans who saw the blows started shouting, "No! Not on A.J.!" Later, linebacker Marquis Flowers and center T.J. Johnson exchanged words briefly, but that scuffle was stopped quickly before it became anything bigger.
  • After practice, Lamur walked up to a grinning Hue Jackson and gave the offensive coordinator a hug. Lamur also exchanged a jovial fist-bump with Boling as he walked off the practice fields. When Lamur was asked to comment on the near-brawl, he simply said: "It's over." Defensive end Wallace Gilberry said it's just a sign the Bengals are ready to get to their first preseason game next week at Kansas City. "We're ready to hit somebody else, but at the end of the day, we're a team first and foremost," Gilberry said. "Coach [Marvin Lewis] hates it, but it gets us fired up."
  • Flowers, a noted trash-talker, told me he doesn't want to rein in his on-field actions too significantly, but he added that he wants to monitor what he says and does a little better. In addition to all the smack he was talking to his offensive counterparts, the rookie began practice with a pop when he gave receiver Cobi Hamilton an unexpected forearm shiver as Hamilton ran out of the backfield in a low-speed drill. The hit was so hard, it sent Hamilton to the turf instantly, caused fans nearby to gasp and made noted hard hitter Vontaze Burfict holler his support. "I've got to watch it," Flowers said. "I thought the run was coming at me, but obviously I didn't want to do that. I just wanted to tag off. We don't want nobody on the ground, but at the same time, I was just trying to protect myself."
  • Flowers said that after his interview, he was headed straight to Hamilton's locker to apologize. Flowers' actions probably are best chalked up to first-day excitement. After beginning camp on the active physically unable to perform list, he was medically cleared along with defensive tackle Geno Atkins earlier in the day. While Flowers had a chance to mix into some of the team drills, Atkins was noticeably absent. The bulk of his work came just before practice, when the team walked through position-specific drills. For now, the Bengals plan on taking things slowly with Atkins.
  • Mohamed Sanu was the clear MVP of Monday's practice, passing the football, catching it and running with it out of the backfield. He didn't do all of that Wednesday, but he still began the workout in a unique way, taking the ball on a pitch from Green on a double reverse. The Bengals also tossed in a flea-flicker during their opening drills. Plays like that are all to show those watching that Jackson's offense has the potential to showcase several bells and whistles this season.
CINCINNATI -- At one point in the middle of the Cincinnati Bengals' walkthrough Wednesday morning, defensive line coach Jay Hayes decided to stir up the defensive huddle.

Given the OK from the Bengals' training staff, he told Geno Atkins, his long-injured Pro Bowl defensive tackle, to jog out and line up for a drill the unit was working through. It was the lineman's first time participating in a football activity with his teammates in a day shy of nine months.

Initially, Atkins' appearance caught them a little off guard. But the surprise didn't last long.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsGeno Atkins' participation in practice had the Bengals pumped on Wednesday.
"Everybody had big smiles on their faces because they knew then that the big 9-7 [No. 97] was back to work," fellow defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "We are excited around here. Probably the whole city will be, too, once they hear that Geno is back."

When it comes to the city and its Bengals fans, the word "excited" might not be enough. Try "thrilled," "energized," "electrified" ... "relieved." Or, as one tweeter put it in a rapid reply to my initial social media message about Atkins' return: "Hallelujah!!!"

Yes, with good reason, the vibes in Cincinnati are good now that Atkins' 273 days of torture are over. But what about elsewhere? How might the nice people in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore feel now that the Bengals' All-Pro is back? More specifically, how might the offensive linemen now set to face Atkins again feel about his return?

I'll let Hayes describe what they all are most certainly now thinking.

"If you can get him in one-on-one situations, people are going to have a long day," Hayes said. "Whoever that guy is [who has to block Atkins], he's going to have a bad day."

Double-teams or not, Atkins was having his share of good days last season before he tore his ACL on Halloween night at Miami. He had 20 tackles and six sacks to that point. While the tackle numbers were a little low and may have had many concerned, the sacks were right in line with where he was the season before. He was on pace to possibly reach the 12.5 sacks he had in 2012.

Already an offensive line coach's nightmare from a game-planning standpoint, Atkins' return shouldn't only positively impact him. His teammates ought to benefit from having him back around, too. The double-teams Peko had to fight through after Atkins' injury ought to dissipate. The amount of single-man matchups likely will increase for defensive ends Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry and Margus Hunt, too.

"It makes things a lot easier when a quarterback can't step up in the pocket or is worried about somebody else in the D-line getting sacks," Dunlap said.

Following Atkins' injury, Dunlap and the Bengals' other starting defensive end, Michael Johnson, noticed quarterbacks stepping up in the pocket a little more as they tried to escape the Bengals' pass rush, which was more externally focused at that time. Before, when Atkins still was able to help clog the middle and put pressure on quarterbacks, the passers would be more apt to rolling to the edges and running into lanes the ends were occupying.

Another unintended byproduct of Atkins' injury was the fact that it got young linemen like Brandon Thompson and Devon Still (before his own injury issues) opportunities to see regular playing time. Gilberry and Hunt were among those who were forced into expanding their roles to include rushing from the inside, thereby increasing the versatility they can provide the defense.

"The injury wasn't a blessing, but it just goes to the adage of next man up," Hayes said. "They all know that. They all know now that at the drop of a hat, 'I have to be ready. I just can't be pigeon-holed as the backup.' If you're a backup, you have to be able to play all the positions to some extent. ... You have to have that position versatility because we just don't have enough people to have a backup for each guy."

As well as his backups may have played in relief last season, neither of them was striking the type of fear in offensive linemen that Atkins will again.

Here's how Clint Boling, the Bengals' left guard who will be facing Atkins often in practice again, described the defender's return: "I'm probably the only guy in the building that's disappointed he's coming back."

Don't worry, Clint. Outside the stadium, you certainly aren't alone.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 3

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
6:15
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Cincinnati Bengals' training camp:
  • Offense was the big story for the Bengals through the first two days of training camp, but on Saturday, defense stole the headlines. Cornerbacks Adam Jones and Darqueze Dennard had a few key pass breakups and interceptions in a practice that hinged largely on third-down play. Jones rebounded after giving up a few receptions in one-on-one drills with receivers. By the end of the 11-on-11 portion of practice, he was stopping most everything that came his direction. Arguably his most noteworthy pass breakup occurred off a play-action fake from quarterback Andy Dalton. As Dalton threw off his back leg and hung a deep pass to A.J. Green, Jones turned and jumped in the path of the ball, knocking it down. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Jones has played with good technique through the first three days. He added that veteran Terence Newman has as well. "It's good for our younger guys to see how they play and how they're out here competing every snap."
  • One of those younger players, the rookie Dennard, had the play of the day when he dove full length for a Dalton pass that flew wide of its mark. It was hard to tell whether Dalton threw the pass to the wrong spot or if the receiver ran the wrong route, but Dennard, playing in the familiar lockdown style that was his hallmark at Michigan State, saw the ball heading toward the sideline even as the receiver didn't. Players and fans both reacted favorably to the pickoff. "Saturday] was the first day we could play press-man on the receiver, and that's what he did at Michigan State, so he's back in his comfort zone doing what he does. He's just got to continue to get better and work on his technique, and going against good receivers every day will help him."
  • One of the cornerbacks who did not take part in the live offense vs. defense portions of the workout was Leon Hall. The veteran is still rebounding from an Achilles tear that ended his 2013 season in Week 7. It was out of an abundance of caution that the Bengals held him out of most of the practice, even though he still participated in position-specific drills early in the session. Although he's fully recovered from the serious injury, the staff still wants to ease him back into action.
  • Along with Hall, the Bengals are taking a similar slow approach with offensive linemen Clint Boling and Mike Pollak. The left guards are rotating days on and off for the foreseeable future. After Boling started at the position Thursday, Pollak took his share of snaps Friday. Keeping with the rotation, Boling claimed the starting reps at the spot Saturday. Both still dressed in the shoulder pads-and-shorts attire the rest of the team sported as the full-gear acclimation period begins to slow down. The team will be in full pads Sunday.
  • The Bengals had two injuries during Saturday's practice. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick pulled up, holding his right hamstring, after using good coverage to prevent Green from catching a pass from Dalton off a deep go route. Kirkpatrick was stretched out but didn't return to practice. Defensive tackle LaKendrick Ross had a minor injury as well, jogging off the field at one point for treatment. He ended up returning and finishing the practice.

Bengals Camp Report: Day 2

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
7:30
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Cincinnati Bengals' training camp:
  • Dalton
    Dalton
    We're only two days into training camp, but already the Bengals are showing a few wrinkles that could find their way into the offense when camp breaks at the end of August. On Thursday, they incorporated a no-huddle offense. It seemed that very rarely did they get a play called from a huddle before executing it. While the no-huddle was evident again for parts of Friday's practice, it wasn't the only recent addition made to offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's new scheme. The Bengals also worked on shovel passes at times during the workout, slipping the quick screens to their backs in the middle of the field. Few around the team are talking about what all the no-huddle is all about. Believe me, myself and others have tried to get folks talking. At the very least, the up-tempo pacing will have the benefit of helping the defense prepare for the number of no-huddle schemes it will face this season, even if the Bengals seldom run it offensively in games themselves.
  • After a relatively clean first day with few drops and no fumbles or botched snaps, the Bengals were slightly messier Friday. Twice they fumbled. Once running back Giovani Bernard and quarterback Andy Dalton had trouble with an exchange during an offense-only drill. Later, during an 11-on-11 exercise, Bernard couldn't hold on to a low pitch from quarterback Jason Campbell. There also was one false start in the full-team drills. Offensive tackle Will Svitek moved early. Even with those miscues, both the offense and defense had their positive highlights. Cornerbacks Adam Jones and Terence Newman were among those who broke up their share of passes after getting burned for a couple catches from A.J. Green the day before. Green took his revenge, though, beating Newman on one reception off an out route.
  • Speaking of coverage, once during an 11-on-11 drill I noticed that outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur was split out wide, lined up against tight end Tyler Eifert who was set up like a receiver. Just like the Bengals will do with Bernard, they might at times move Eifert outside. It will provide just another dimension to what we're beginning to see could be a more dynamic and more expansive offense than before. In the meantime, it could make for good practice for Lamur, who will be charged with covering pass-catching tight ends like New Orleans' Jimmy Graham later this season. Lamur's experience as a safety in college also makes him an ideal candidate to play such coverage positions.
  • Another interesting offensive development revolved around the flip-flopping that linemen Clint Boling and Mike Pollak will be doing for at least some part of camp. After Boling practiced Thursday at left guard, Pollak played there Friday, giving Boling the day off. Presumably, Pollak will be getting Saturday off while Boling will practice again. According to Pollak, the changes are the coaches' way of attempting to keep the linemen fresh. Both are coming off knee injuries and are still slowly easing their way back into the regular flow of things.
  • And yes, you read that correctly: Pollak played left guard. All offseason the expectation has been for him to battle rookie Russell Bodine for playing time at center. Pollak said he has no idea if those plans have changed. He told me after practice: "I was told to play guard [Friday]. So that's what I'm going to do. If they tell me to play another position, then I'll do that. I'm kind of in the dark. ... Things can change. All I can do is get back on the field healthy 100 percent."

Combine countdown rewind: Bengals OL

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
8:30
AM ET
Last week, in the days leading up to the start of on-field workouts at the NFL combine, we counted down five of the top position needs for a Cincinnati Bengals team that will go into May's draft looking to build depth instead of trying to find immediate starters.

As part of the countdown, I listed three players from each position who I said I would have my eyes on during the interview and testing portions of the event. Now that the combine is concluding, wrapping up Tuesday with defensive back workouts, I figured this would be a good time to go back and look at the numbers posted by the players who were part of the countdown. Each day this week, we'll be doing a rewind of the countdown, analyzing how well the players who were in it worked out.

After running backs Monday, up next: Offensive line

Questions still loom with respect to the Bengals' plans about their rotations at left guard and left tackle. They likely won't be answered until free agency begins in two weeks, and some resolution begins to occur regarding tackle Anthony Collins' ability to either re-sign or ink a contract elsewhere. Guard Mike Pollak also is an unrestricted free agent and might not be in Cincinnati next season, although the odds are more favorable for him to stay. Until any type of resolution is made with respect to these two rather important free agents, there will continue to be some uncertainty about what the Bengals might do as far as drafting an offensive lineman or multiple linemen.

The age of some of the Bengals' current linemen also gives the organization reason to want to add to their depth on the line. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's push for a more physical, run-based scheme this fall certainly would warrant more depth on the line to account for any injuries that might occur. At this point, though, who the Bengals draft on the offensive line depends solely on the types of players who are around when they make their selections. Body size, ability and a previous understanding of Bengals line techniques are factors that could influence draft decisions here. Versatility has always been key for Cincinnati offensive line coach Paul Alexander, too. He'll be looking for players who can fill multiple roles and play multiple positions in times of need.

Two of the three linemen I looked at last week, Clemson's Brandon Thomas and Alabama's Anthony Steen, are those types of versatile players. Thomas played tackle in college, but may be making the move to guard in the NFL. His shorter arms (34 3/4 inches) project better for playing guard than tackle at the next level. His experience at both positions, though, could make him attractive to teams in the middle rounds of the draft. Steen was a guard throughout his time with the Crimson Tide, but he has been told that teams are interested in moving him to center at the next level. While the Bengals seem comfortable with Kyle Cook's ability as their starting center, they also have Trevor Robinson and T.J. Johnson who are listed as backup centers. Pollak could play the position in a pinch, too. Either way, Steen's desire to play either center or guard could make him attractive.

The other lineman, Morgan Moses (Virginia), is a bigger bodied tackle who projects into the first two rounds. He might be gone before the Bengals are ready for him, but he could be a solid enough addition for an offense trying to run more efficiently.

Here are numbers (per NFL.com) from the trio's workout Saturday:

Morgan Moses (Virginia)
40-yard dash: 5.35 seconds
Vertical: 21.5 inches
Broad jump: 106 inches
3-cone drill: 7.93 seconds

-- Moses was included on the pre-combine list mainly because I just liked him. He has good size, good arms and really made a name for himself at the Senior Bowl. He looked rather clean in run- and pass-block situations during that game. If the Bengals decided to go offensive lineman with their late first-round pick, he'd likely be there. Overall, he didn't test well Saturday. His 40 time wasn't one of the best among offensive linemen, his vertical was tied for the worst and his broad jump and cone drill numbers didn't wow, either.

Brandon Thomas (Clemson)
40-yard dash: 5.09 seconds
Bench: 35 reps (at 225 pounds)
Vertical: 29 inches
Broad jump: 98 inches
3-cone drill: 8.13 seconds

-- Compared to Moses, Thomas had a better day of on-field testing, turning in the 10th-fastest 40-yard time among linemen, having the sixth-most bench reps and a vertical that tied with others for the fifth highest. The mid-round projection may have boosted his draft stock slightly with those numbers. His greatest asset moving forward, though, will be his versatility.

Anthony Steen (Alabama)
40-yard dash: N/A
Bench: N/A
Vertical: N/A
Broad jump: N/A
3-cone drill: N/A

-- A shoulder injury that was finally operated on late in Alabama's season forced Steen to sit out the physical portion of the combine. He participated in interviews and met with teams, but didn't bench or run. He expects to be healthy enough for Alabama's pro day in April. Another mid-round projection, his versatility will be his biggest asset this spring.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Marvin Lewis is tired of hearing them. Andrew Whitworth is, too.

But the questions about whether Whitworth, the Cincinnati Bengals' veteran Pro Bowl offensive lineman, will end up playing left guard or left tackle next season likely will continue until mid May, the time when the team ought to settle its O-line roster following the NFL draft and free agency.

So as much as the head coach and his versatile, team-first lineman may hate being asked them, both ought to know that for now, the questions won't completely disappear.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Whitworth
AP Photo/David KohlWhether Andrew Whitworth suits up at left guard or left tackle in 2014, the Bengals will still rely on the experience of their eight-year veteran.
At the NFL combine Friday, during a nearly 30-minute session with Bengals media, Lewis told reporters he felt the inquiries about Whitworth's status had already been overdone.

"Too much has been made of it. Andrew Whitworth has said many times during the season he'll play where he needs to play to make the football team win, which is the same statement he made to me, and then now, someone gets one little thing and makes a mountain out of a molehill. Whit will play wherever he feels is best for the football team. He loved playing inside at guard, and he's been our starting left tackle. He continues [to be] and will be a player for us somehow, somewhere."

Earlier this offseason, Whitworth made it evident that until he was told otherwise, he considered himself a left tackle.

"I've been a left tackle here and will continue to be the left tackle, and if not, there's something we have to do," Whitworth told ESPN.com. "That's the spot that I've been playing and I played it really well."

Whitworth began the 2013 season the same way he did the previous four: as a left tackle. It's the position that earned him a postseason trip to Hawaii in 2012.

But last December after left guard Clint Boling tore his ACL at San Diego, Whitworth asked coaches to let him switch back to the position where he was used for two of the first three years of his career. After opening enough holes to help the Bengals rush for 164 yards, the second-highest rushing total they had last season, the move stuck. Whitworth stayed at left guard through the playoffs.

By having Whitworth at that position, the Bengals saw their blocking increase, new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. Before transitioning to his current role last month, Jackson served as running backs coach.

"It looked like London Bridges out there where everything was getting knocked down," Jackson said. "He brought that mentality, and to me, that is how we have to play every play. In the game in San Diego when Boling got hurt, he went out there and didn't blink. We had one of our best rushing days and that tells you a lot."

Boling hopes to be fully healthy by September.

As selfless as Whitworth's decision to move to guard was, Jackson and Lewis hold the final word on where the lineman plays next season. They contend they will only place him there if it's the right fit for where their new offense plans to go. Those plans also hinge in part on Anthony Collins' free agent future. Cincinnati would like to bring the backup tackle back, but may ultimately be unable to. If Collins isn't on the team next season, Whitworth's status as a left tackle seems assured. If Collins stays, the Bengals have good reason to debate whether to keep Whitworth at the spot he shined late last year, or to return him to the place he believes he's best suited to play.

"We'll see how things shake out and what's good for the Bengals," Lewis said. "We have an opportunity to have some depth. We'll continue to try to work hard toward having that kind of depth on our football team."

Exactly how will that depth come together later this offseason, though? Will it be through the draft, retention of key free agents or the placement of Whitworth? The Bengals ought to be able to provide a few answers by the middle of May.
With the offseason here, we've been spending the last week taking a position-by-position review of the Cincinnati Bengals' 2013 season and give a sneak peek at what may lie ahead in 2014.

After quarterbacks Monday, running backs Tuesday, receivers Wednesday, tight ends Thursday and offensive tackles Friday, up next:

OFFENSIVE GUARDS/CENTERS

2014 free agents: Mike Pollak

The good: Much like the Bengals' tackles, the centers and guards also had strong showings in 2013. When it came to pass protection, Pro Football Focus rated the Bengals as having the NFL's best offensive line during the regular season. Run blocking wasn't as good, but the Bengals still were able to move piles at times when they attacked the interior of the line of scrimmage. The deeper into the season, the better the line's interior was at providing enough push for running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard. When left tackle Andrew Whitworth moved from left tackle to left guard, the Bengals' inside running game made certain strides, as well. Whitworth's versatility was a good thing for both the interior and exterior portions of the line. There were times late in the season when he played both tackle and guard in the same game.

Zeitler
The bad: Even though the Bengals were rated as having the best pass protection in the league, some of their occasional issues with respect to sacks and stunts and missed blitz pickups came from their guard positions. One of the more notable sacks of the season came on the final play of the Bengals' 22-20 overtime loss at Miami on Halloween. Right guard Kevin Zeitler wasn't prepared for Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake to stunt inside. When Wake did, he pushed easily past Zeitler and tackled quarterback Andy Dalton in the end zone for a rare walk-off safety. While the sacks weren't a glaring issue for the centers and guards, injuries were. Zeitler missed multiple games in the second half of the season with a foot injury, and Pollak was unable to play the first half of the season because of a knee issue. Left guard Clint Boling went down for the year in the Week 13 win over the Chargers, forcing Whitworth to be moved to his spot the remainder of the season.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Cook ($3.3 million), Zeitler ($2.1 million), Boling ($765,362), Trevor Robinson ($572,000), Tanner Hawkinson ($540,606). Cook will be returning as the team's starting center in 2014, but Robinson's rather solid, meaningful snaps in place of the injured Cook during the regular-season finale make him a good enough backup. Robinson will be playing the final year of his contract this coming season and could be playing for a chance to remain with the team more long term. Cook turns 31 just before the start of the season. Robinson will be 24 in May. Pollak's strong play in relief of Zeitler, as well as his ability to play center and guard make him a real candidate for being re-signed this offseason. If Pollak remains with the team, the Bengals could have a real logjam at guard with Zeitler scheduled to return for his third season, and Boling due to come back from an ACL injury at some point next season. If Whitworth is in the mix at left guard -- which is a distinct possibility -- the Bengals could have some tough decisions to make regarding which interior linemen they want to keep going forward.

Draft priority: Moderate. Just like offensive tackles, a team can never have too many guards or centers. It's possible that at least one interior lineman gets drafted to keep the Bengals' depth strong, but that decision is partially dependent upon what the Bengals do about Whitworth and Pollak. Cincinnati has spent the last three drafts shoring up their offensive line. So far, it's paid off.
CINCINNATI -- One day after learning left offensive guard Clint Boling tore his ACL in Sunday's 17-10 win at San Diego, the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday placed Boling on season-ending injured reserve and re-signed fellow lineman Dennis Roland.

Roland was on the Bengals' roster for three games earlier this season before getting waived. He comes back as the Bengals look to shore up depth on their line amid the possibility that they may shake up the lineup to feature Pro Bowl tackle Andrew Whitworth at Boling's old spot.

A third-year player from the University of Georgia, Boling started every game for the Bengals last season, and did the same in all 12 of this year's contests. He only lasted five plays against the Chargers on Sunday, though, going down on just the second drive of the game. Almost instantly the Bengals knew the injury was serious when Boling needed to be helped off the field by tight end Alex Smith.

Boling becomes the ninth Bengals player to head to the IR, and the first on offense. Receiver Andrew Hawkins was lost for all of the preseason and half of the regular season when he was added to the IR/designated to return list in August. He was the only other non-PUP (physically unable to perform list) offensive player to miss significant time this season. Hawkins came back at Miami four games ago.

Also a Georgia product, Roland is a sixth-year player who has spent his entire career with the Bengals. Although he was released Sept. 25, he didn't play for any other team before getting re-signed Tuesday. He has seen action in 69 career games and three postseason games. A tackle by trade, Roland's arrival could be a sign the Bengals are bolstering their depth at offensive tackle in the event they decide to move Whitworth to Boling's position more permanently.

After Boling went down Sunday, the Bengals' offensive line -- with Whitworth at left guard, reserve Anthony Collins at left tackle and Mike Pollak at right guard in place of an injured Kevin Zeitler -- led the way for a 164-yard team rushing performance. It was among the top three rushing efforts for Cincinnati this season.
CINCINNATI -- Dare we say it?

Why not? Somebody has to.

The Cincinnati Bengals are better off with Andrew Whitworth at offensive guard.

There. It's been said. The universe may not want to accept it, but it's now out there. Take it or leave it. Agree with it or laugh at it. Whatever you do, just consider the following: the Bengals sure looked pretty good Sunday afternoon with the Pro Bowl tackle playing on the interior of their line.

For all but five of the 61 plays they ran against the Chargers in their Week 13 contest at Qualcomm Stadium, the Bengals were forced into the unenviable task of replacing their two starting offensive guards. Right guard Kevin Zeitler already was missing in action, declared inactive before the game due to a foot injury that has slowed him the last three weeks. He made the trip, but didn't participate.

He ended up getting joined on the sidelines by left guard Clint Boling, a third-year lineman from Georgia who succumbed to a knee injury on the Bengals' second drive. Coach Marvin Lewis after the game called it "significant." During his news conference back in Cincinnati on Monday, he outlined just how bad it was.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Whitworth
AP Photo/David Kohl"As good as throwing the ball is, running the ball, you can't take the emotion out of being able to run it effectively," Andrew Whitworth said. "It lifts the whole team. It gives a sense of empowerment."
"I don't know if a doctor has read it yet, but I can see it and it looks like a torn ACL," Lewis said.

The coach added that Boling will soon have surgery and be moved to injured reserve. When he officially gets placed on IR, Boling will become the ninth Bengals player to be added to the season-ending list this year. He also will be the first offensive player to receive that designation. Receiver Andrew Hawkins was lost for all of the preseason and half of the regular season when he was added to the IR/designated to return list. He was the only other non-PUP (physically unable to perform list) offensive player to miss significant time this season. Hawkins came back at Miami four games ago.

Boling's injury means the Bengals are down at least one starting interior lineman. Zeitler is expected to return from his foot injury this weekend when Indianapolis comes to Cincinnati for a key AFC battle. If Zeitler does play, he probably goes back to his right guard position, sparking a series of important decisions for the Bengals' coaching staff.

Either Zeitler's replacement, Mike Pollak, will shift over to left guard and handle Boling's responsibilities, or the Bengals will put him back on the bench and retain the rest of the line setup that plowed the way for a 164-yard team rushing performance, and kept quarterback Andy Dalton from taking a single sack Sunday.

All due respect to Pollak, who has played well in relief of Zeitler, but the Bengals need to stick with what made their offense roll so well this weekend. That means sticking with the setup that included moving Whitworth from left tackle to left guard, and bringing reserve tackle Anthony Collins over to Whitworth's former left tackle spot. Andre Smith, who was bizarrely benched in favor of Collins at right tackle ended up playing exclusively at his usual position following Boling's injury, should stay at right tackle.

"Adjusting to Clint Boling's injury, and Andrew sliding in at guard, we just really did it kind of seamlessly," Lewis said. "That was very good. Our front group, including our tight end Jermaine Gresham, did a great job up front blocking."

Cincinnati's linemen felt like they carried the team to the victory.

"We got that swagger," Collins said right after the game. "In the huddle, we were talking to each other like, 'Let's do it. We can't be stopped. Let's do it. Let's drive this ball, put it on our back and go home.'"

On the final drive, they did. Buoyed by running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis' pile-moving running ability, the Bengals' offensive front pushed the Chargers back just enough to pick up three first downs that resulted from runs. The harder it seemed Green-Ellis ran, the more joy the linemen seemed to take in continuing to push the line forward.

"As good as throwing the ball is, running the ball, you can't take the emotion out of being able to run it effectively," Whitworth said. "It lifts the whole team. It gives a sense of empowerment."

Asked after the game whether he felt Boling's injury might lead to a reworked Bengals line that had him playing guard, Whitworth was every bit as vague as his coaches were Monday, and likely will be throughout the week.

"We'll see how it plays out," Whitworth said. "I love to be a tone-setter inside."

He has to be that tone-setter.

Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden knows Whitworth can be. Not only does Whitworth's size and agility help shield linebackers from the smaller running backs behind him, but he plays differently when he's inside as opposed to the outside edge, Gruden said.

"As a guard, he has a little bit different demeanor than he would as a tackle," Gruden said. "He can come off a little bit more ferociously, so to speak, where that's what he likes. He likes to grind people and drive people and play physical. Sometimes at tackle, he doesn't get that luxury."

That's all you need to know.

Just leave Whitworth at guard, Bengals. You're better off with him there.

Still, having said that, don't place Whitworth's name in ink at the position. With Pollak playing well and Zeitler coming back, the Bengals are in the envious position of still having depth on the line. They have other options. That's why Lewis won't yet consider the Whitworth-to-guard move a done deal.

Asked what would go into making that decision, Lewis laughed and responded: "Me not talking about it. I guess that line of questioning is over."

Actually, coach, it should have been over as soon as your team walked off the field Sunday.

Here's the answer: leave Whitworth at guard.
The Cincinnati Bengals continue to cut ties with much of their free-agent class from a year ago, releasing guard Travelle Wharton on Monday.

Wharton, the Bengals' first free-agent signing last year, was projected to be the team's starting left guard until a knee injury in the preseason opener sidelined him for the rest of the year. The Bengals save $1.6 million against the salary cap by cutting Wharton, who earned $4 million in first-year payments despite never playing a game for the Bengals.

Cincinnati was able to make the move because Clint Boling, a fourth-round pick in 2011, played solidly in replacing Wharton. Boling was rated the 11th-best left guard in the league last season by Pro Football Focus. The Bengals weren't going to keep Wharton as a backup when he had the team's ninth-highest salary-cap number ($3.375 million).

Another factor was the Bengals' depth on the interior of the offensive line. According to the team's official website, the player who fails to win the starting center job (Kyle Cook or Trevor Robinson) will be the top backup at center and guard.

The release of Wharton is another reminder of how the Bengals weren't successful in free agency last year. The Bengals' top signings of free agents from other teams in 2012 were: Wharton, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, cornerback Terence Newman, cornerback Jason Allen, defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson and defensive end Derrick Harvey. Only Green-Ellis and Newman remain with the team.

The Bengals chose to sign Wharton last year when other top-rated guards (Ben Grubbs, Carl Nicks and Evan Mathis) were available in free agency.
Last week, the AFC North blog had a post on Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton taking too many sacks. David from Boston then sent a note to the mailbag asking who is responsible for the other Bengals' sacks.

Assigning sacks allowed is very subjective because no one can accurately place blame on an offensive lineman, tight end or running back unless they know the assignments and blocking scheme called. But the people at Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Weekly (which sadly announced its demise a few days ago) do a great job at tracking the sacks given up by offensive linemen.

According to both sites, right tackle Andre Smith led the Bengals with seven sacks allowed, which is about 15 percent of Cincinnati's total. In comparison, Pro Football Focus said Dalton was responsible for taking nine sacks last season.

Here's an offensive line breakdown of sacks allowed for the Bengals:

LT Andrew Whitworth

Pro Football Focus: 5 sacks and no quarterback hits
Pro Football Weekly: 4 sacks

LG Clint Boling

Pro Football Focus: 6 sacks and two QB hits
Pro Football Weekly: 6 sacks

C Trevor Robinson/Kyle Cook

Pro Football Focus: 1 sack and three QB hits/3 sacks and no hits
Pro Football Weekly: 2 sacks/3 sacks

RG Kevin Zeitler

Pro Football Focus: 4 sacks and one QB hit
Pro Football Weekly: 4.5 sacks

RT Andre Smith

Pro Football Focus: 7 sacks and two QB hits
Pro Football Weekly: 7.5 sacks
Joe Flacco and A.J. Green Getty ImagesBaltimore's Joe Flacco, left, and Cincinnati's A.J. Green could hold the keys to victory Monday.
Thanks to Marvin Lewis, the Cincinnati Bengals match up pretty well against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Ravens have been a perennial playoff team, but Lewis, the Ravens’ defensive coordinator from 1996 to 2001, builds his Bengals roster to counter that of his division rival. Because he helped hand-pick several of the top defensive players who have helped make the Ravens one of the best defenses in the league, the Bengals usually know they can give the Ravens a game.

Since 2006, this competitive series has had only two games in which the margin of difference was bigger than 10 points. In fact, Lewis has a 10-8 career record against the Ravens. Since John Harbaugh arrived in Baltimore in 2008, though, he has won five of eight against the Bengals.

Here’s what to watch for in this competitive Monday night game:

Baltimore Ravens

1. Will the Ravens have a pass rush? The loss of linebacker Terrell Suggs was huge for the Ravens. His Achilles tendon injury has created an Achilles’ heel for their defense. They need a pass rush, and this goes beyond replacing Suggs’ 14 sacks. In the preseason, the Ravens didn’t show they were consistently getting to the quarterback. Second-round linebacker Courtney Upshaw is still getting his feel for the NFL but might offer some hope. The pressure will fall on Paul Kruger, who takes over Suggs’ spot. The Ravens are blessed with good coverage cornerbacks, which might allow them to try some blitzes.

2. More will fall on the arm of Joe Flacco: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron plans to let Flacco take more leadership on the field and let him use more no-huddle. Although the Ravens don’t plan to abandon the run, they will be running a quicker offense. Normally, the Bengals play the Ravens to low-scoring games in which both teams end up scoring in the teens. Last season, offense became more of a factor. The Ravens won those games 31-24 and 24-16. Flacco would love to get three or four touchdown drives against the Bengals.

3. More speed at wide receiver: One of the reasons the Bengals and Lewis keep the scores low against the Ravens is the Bengals use plenty of man-to-man schemes. In the past, the Ravens didn’t have a lot of speed at wide receiver. This year, they have speed. Torrey Smith, in his second season, is now a complete receiver with speed instead of being only a deep threat like in his rookie year. Jacoby Jones adds a sub-4.4 threat. LaQuan Williams is fast. Watch to see whether the Ravens' receivers can win the battle against the Bengals' cornerbacks.

4. Are the Ravens solid up front? The Ravens are fielding one of the oldest offensive lines in football. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie is 32. Guard Bobbie Williams is 35. Center Matt Birk is 36. One of the keys to the running game is how Williams and Birk will do against defensive tackle Geno Atkins. If Atkins’ quickness beats the aging legs of Birk and Williams, the Ravens might have trouble running the football up the middle. They might also be vulnerable to inside blitzes.

5. Will Ray Rice’s role change? Rice has carried the Ravens' offense for years, but the subtle changes in this year’s offense could adjust his role. First, will the no-huddle limit some of the runs Rice could make? Second, if the Ravens have problems in the middle of the line, will he have to bounce more plays to the outside? Rice is a threat running and receiving, but the new emphasis on throwing the ball could make him more of a threat through the air.

Cincinnati Bengals:

1. Problems in the middle of the Bengals' offensive line: The Bengals lost guard Travelle Wharton and center Kyle Cook for the season, and they have to make do with Clint Boling at left guard and Jeff Faine at center. Faine is an established NFL veteran, but he sometimes has trouble against big 3-4 defensive tackles. How he handles Terrence Cody, Haloti Ngata and Ma'ake Kemoeatu could be the key to the game for the Bengals. If the pocket collapses in the middle of the field, it could be a tough day for quarterback Andy Dalton.

2. Establishing the man-to-man matchups: Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is a master of matching up his cornerbacks against receivers. He has plenty of options. Nate Clements and Leon Hall are the starters, but also at his disposal are longtime Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman, Adam “PacMan” Jones and Jason Allen.

3. Making sure Taylor Mays has a good game: Mays won the strong safety job, so this will be his most extensive playing time as he enters his third year in the league. Mays has cornerback speed and is a big hitter, but he is still raw at the position. The Ravens will try to challenge him by sending tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta in his direction. Flacco also will try to get him out of position with play-action fakes that could free up Torrey Smith for some deep completions.

4. Establishing a running game: The Bengals had a solid running back with Cedric Benson. Now, the BenJarvus Green-Ellis era begins. Green-Ellis is a smart player who doesn’t fumble, but he has yet to prove he can be an every-down back week in, week out. The Bengals still have a young quarterback in Dalton, so it would be nice if he could count on Green-Ellis getting 16 to 18 carries a week.

5. Sorting out the receiving corps: Everyone knows A.J. Green has established himself as one of the best young receivers in football. Tight end Jermaine Gresham is a big-play target. But the Bengals have revamped everything behind him. Andrew Hawkins takes over as the slot receiver. Brandon Tate is the starter at wide receiver for now, but third-round pick Mohamed Sanu is an intriguing prospect. With defenses figuring to double-team Green, Dalton has to see who can establish themselves as dependable pass-catching options.

Biggest concern: Cincinnati Bengals

September, 4, 2012
9/04/12
4:55
PM ET
All this week the AFC North will look at the biggest concern facing each team in the division for the 2012 season.

BENGALS

Many would point to the lack of experience at the No. 2 wide receiver. That is a big question mark on offense, but tight end Jermaine Gresham should fill the role as a complimentary target to A.J. Green. The bigger concern is the Bengals' running game.

Coach Marvin Lewis wants his team to be a physical, run-first one. Injuries in the preseason have hurt that game plan for the Bengals. Left guard Travelle Wharton, whose strength is run blocking, is out for the season with a knee injury and has been replaced by Clint Boling, a 2001 fourth-round pick who has three career starts. The Bengals are also without center Kyle Cook (foot) and had to sign veteran Jeff Faine, who isn't a solid run blocker.

Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a power runner who does a lot of damage in between the tackles. Now, two of the three starting interior linemen are hurt. Green-Ellis has been injured as well, which is why he's only played one preseason game. It wouldn't be a surprise if it took time for Green-Ellis to get his timing down with this reshuffled offensive line.

Green-Ellis, who averaged 3.7 yards per carry last season, won't provide much explosiveness to the offense. He had no 20-yard rushes among his 181 attempts in 2011. According to ESPN Stats & Information, no other running back had more rushes without a 20-yard gain than Green-Ellis last season.

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