Morning Stripes: Combine key to OL depth

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
8:00
AM ET
As you peruse a few websites devoted to covering the Cincinnati Bengals this morning, you'll probably notice a trend: They're talking about the offensive line.

That's because from an interviewing standpoint, Thursday was offensive line day at the NFL combine. It also was the day tight ends, punters and kickers were interviewed. But with the Bengals possessing a slightly more pressing need for bringing in offensive linemen through the draft, it made sense for reporters in Indianapolis for the combine to catch up with the centers, guards and tackles who walked into the interview room.

But this is not the draft for the Bengals to seek linemen who can play right away. While they certainly want to bring in as many players as they can who could contribute immediately, this draft is specifically about adding to the depth of a very good, but aging and changing line.

The big storyline around the Bengals' offensive line this offseason has to do with unrestricted free agent tackle Anthony Collins and the likelihood he gets re-signed. Odds may have improved slightly for Cincinnati to bring back both Collins and defensive end Michael Johnson, with the report Thursday from ESPN's Adam Schefter that the league is planning to up the salary cap by about $7 million this year. Now allowed to spend close to $130 million, the Bengals and other teams have a little more wiggle room to try to reach deals with key free agents.

In addition to Collins, though, the Bengals have to start thinking about replacing veterans Andrew Whitworth and Kyle Cook on the offensive line. Both are into their 30s, with Cook entering the final two years of his contract. Center is a relatively low need for the Bengals, but bringing along versatile linemen who could help Trevor Robinson and T.J. Johnson play the position in a pinch could become important in the coming seasons. Two linemen who could fit that mold -- Florida State's Bryan Stork and Alabama's Anthony Steen -- said the Bengals had not interviewed them during their stay in Indianapolis.

Tackle will become important if Collins doesn't get re-signed and if the Bengals believe they want to continue stockpiling depth to absorb the looming loss of Whitworth.

Besides, with their desire to have an offense with more attitude and edge this fall, the Bengals might as well start looking to the groom linemen into that style of scheme. Just talking to a few offensive line prospects Thursday, it's clear that they feel the line sets the tone for that type of offensive attack; an attack they want to be part of at the next level.

Here are a few other Morning Stripes for your Friday:
  • From the Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr., here is a read on the options at center in a draft that doesn't seem very deep at that spot. Stork, who told reporters he was simply a "football player" and didn't care what his combine measurables end up being, has the type of unconventional, blue-collar approach Bengals coaches seem to love.
  • Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson has his own read on the offensive line hopefuls, starting with offensive line coach Paul Alexander's contentment with this draft that's full of big-bodied tackle and guard talent. Again, this draft is about building depth for a Bengals line that Pro Football Focus rated as the league's best in pass protection in 2013.
  • Speaking of evaluating the draft talent on hand, the Enquirer's Joe Reedy takes a look at how difficult it is to scout prospects at the combine because of how structured the event has become. With so many underclassmen in this draft, that could make assessing maturity tougher.

Coley Harvey

ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter

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