With the offseason here, let's spend the next two weeks taking a position-by-position review of the Cincinnati Bengals' 2013 season and give a sneak peek at what may lie ahead in 2014.
The good: Cincinnati's entire offensive line had a strong season, finishing as the top pass-protecting unit in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. It was the Bengals' tackles, though -- Pro Bowler Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Collins and Roland -- who particularly had a strong season. Collins, for example didn't allow a sack all season, which was a feat not replicated by another player who saw as much action as the regularly used backup did. Starters Smith and Whitworth combined to allow 10 sacks between them, PFF said. In addition to playing left tackle, Whitworth finished the season at left guard, filling in for Clint Boling, who was lost for the year with an ACL tear in Week 13. Whitworth's versatility earns him even higher marks.
The bad: Aside from the sacks allowed by Smith and Whitworth, there wasn't much bad among the tackles. A few false-start penalties and holding calls may have been annoyances at times, but the nature of the position is that they will come. That's particularly the case when teams are trailing and playing in hostile road environments. What the Bengals' tackles may need to do a better job of in 2014 is making sure they're consistently setting the edge in run-blocking scenarios. With offensive coordinator Hue Jackson taking over, there's a chance they'll be running slightly more than they did in recent years.
The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Whitworth ($6.2 million), Smith ($5.2 million). Whitworth and Smith will be back next season, but questions linger concerning how they'll be used. That's particularly the case with Whitworth, who could move permanently to guard, especially if Boling hasn't fully recovered by the beginning of the season. If Whitworth makes the switch, which likely wouldn't be announced for several months, it would be partly because the Bengals expect to re-sign Collins If Whitworth remains at tackle and Collins gets re-signed, Smith and Collins would compete for the second starting job. Cincinnati hopes it will be able to bring Collins back, but the team has no plans of getting rid of either Whitworth or Smith.
Draft priority: Moderately high. There have been better offensive tackle draft classes, but this isn't a bad one. Teams across the league are constantly looking to add to their depth on both the offensive and defensive lines, so expect them all to target linemen. Closely watch the team's talks with Collins and Roland to gauge just how serious the Bengals are about drafting tackles. If just Roland is brought back, expect the Bengals to draft another one or two versatile linemen.