Starting left guard Travelle Wharton suffered a season-ending knee injury during Friday night's preseason-opening 17-6 victory against the Jets, a source told ESPN's John Clayton. Wharton, 31, who signed a three-year, $10 million contract in March, is done after playing three snaps.
The loss of Wharton hurts the Bengals' plans of getting their running game on track. Last season, the Bengals averaged 3.9 yards per carry, which ranked 27th in the NFL. Cincinnati replaced Cedric Benson with BenJarvus Green-Ellis at running back, but the addition of Wharton was almost as important in recharging the running game.
Cincinnati's biggest weakness was running the ball up the middle, where the 320-pound Wharton was going to make a real push. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bengals averaged 3.3 yards in between the tackles (30th in the NFL) and scored three touchdowns up the middle (tied for 21st).
The Bengals made Wharton their first free-agent signing this year because his strength was run blocking. And Green-Ellis, who excels at running inside, would've been following Wharton more often than cutting to the outside.
Cincinnati will also miss Wharton's experience. He has started 99 games over the past eight seasons. Now, the Bengals are expected to turn to Clint Boling, a 2011 fourth-round pick who has three career starts.