- Coley Harvey, ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter
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INDIANAPOLIS -- To play for the Cincinnati Bengals, an offensive lineman must possess one important quality: versatility.
Versatile linemen, in the eyes of Bengals coaches, are ones who aren't specialized. They're players who have no qualms about switching sides of the line if need be, or switching between interior and exterior blocking positions when asked.
LSU product and potential Bengals target La'el Collins considers himself to be precisely that type of player.
"I don't have any preference," Collins said Wednesday afternoon at the NFL combine, speaking specifically about playing left or right tackle. "I can go wherever."
Throughout his college career, Collins bounced back and forth between the two edge-blocking spots, and even did the same on the interior. His later years at LSU were spent playing left tackle. During the Senior Bowl, he took reps at four different line positions.
That's called versatility.
If you've followed the Bengals the last few seasons, you understand why the organization values such flexibility.
Two seasons ago, veteran Andrew Whitworth, the organization's stalwart left tackle moved to left guard the last six games when Clint Boling was lost due to an ACL tear. It wasn't the most ideal scenario for Whitworth, but he volunteered to make the switch anyway. While he preferred the comfort and familiarity of the left tackle position, he felt that moving inside would make the team even better. It arguably did, with the Bengals posting some of their best rushing performances in those end-of-season games.
This past season, the Bengals were forced to make similar switches when right tackle Andre Smith was lost in Week 11 due to a triceps tear. With him out of the rotation, Boling briefly moved from left guard to right tackle before the Cincinnati ultimately found a reliable replacement in veteran tackle Eric Winston.
Versatility; it's what can help a line during harrowing moments like those.
"It's a big advantage," Collins said about playing multiple positions. "It's about understanding the personnel you are blocking. When you're inside you are going against bigger guys. They are stronger, not faster, but on an island you are going against fast guys who are long with speed. You have to be able to understand where you're at on the field and understand the personnel you're going against."
Collins' versatility even extends to the other side of the ball. Before transitioning to the offensive line in high school, he spent the majority of his early playing years -- Collins started football in the third grade -- on the defensive line.
"I always had the mentality of a defensive lineman since I was a defensive guy," he said. "I was able to bring that over on the offensive side, but also bring that intelligence over as well to be able to play the offensive line position. To me, being able to go out with a mentality to just get after it is something I can bring to the table."
La'el Collins considers himself to be a versatile lineman.