Over the course of the next few weeks I will be looking back at the Bengals 2018 season. I will go position by position discussing the highlights along with the moments fans would like to forget heading into 2019. There will also be speculation about the potential future of each position.
The offensive tackles were not nearly as disastrous in 2018 as they were in 2017. Left tackle Cordy Glenn was brought to Cincinnati in a trade prior to the 2018 season. He stepped in and immediately solidified a position that had plagued Cincinnati since Andrew Whitworth left town. There wasn’t much said about Glenn during the season and that is traditionally a good thing. The only reason offensive linemen are talked about is their fantastic play or terrible play. Glenn was neither fantastic nor terrible. He was rock solid for the Bengals on the blindside and there is nothing wrong with that.
The right tackle position was anything but rock solid with Bobby Hart manning the position. You could turn on just about any Bengals game and you’d hear Hart being talked about. It was never good things being said. He was easily one of the worst starting offensive linemen across the entire NFL. Power rushers drove him back into the quarterback and speed rushers ran right by him as if he weren’t there. A complete liability, Hart was one of the worst investments by the Bengals in a long time.
Former Bengal Andre Smith was brought back into the fold to fill in once the injuries began to pile up. He stepped in for Glenn and Hart both at times. While he was not very good, he was serviceable in their stead. Fortunately, Smith was used as the primary back up instead of failed first round pick Cedric Ogbuehi. Ogbuehi only appeared in two games after starting in 2017.
2015 second round pick Jake Fisher took on an interesting role in 2018. He did play as a swing tackle of sorts at times, filling in when needed. Fisher also took on a sort of blocking tight end position for Cincinnati. Rumors are that he has trimmed weight and is fully committing to that position change as a free agent in 2019.
The interior offensive line was fluid throughout the season for the Bengals. Stalwart left guard Clint Boling held down his usual position but was also forced out to left tackle on occasion when injuries struck. Traditionally one of the most underrated players at his position, Boling had his share of struggles in 2018. He wasn’t quite the brick wall that Bengals fans have come to expect. His play wasn’t bad by any means, it just wasn’t as good as usual. Boling was still the best, most consistent player on the offensive line in a down year.
Just like the tackles, the left side was worlds better than the right side when it came to the guard play. The player who won the starting position, Alex Redmond, was a pile driver in the run game. Unfortunately his run blocking was far outweighed by his deficiencies in just about every other aspect of his position. It became a weekly tradition to see Redmond being penalized. Undisciplined, Redmond often tried to make up for being an abysmal pass blocker by committing penalties. His replacement was sorely needed.
Trey Hopkins was usually the player stepping in for injuries or inefficient play. While he wasn’t a standout player, he was better than Redmond. Hopkins showed a solid overall game while filling in across the interior line. His best position actually appeared to be center while filling in for rookie Billy Price.
Christian Westerman was the player that fans were clamoring for when Redmond revealed himself to be unfit as a starter. Westerman finally got his opportunity towards the end of the season appearing in three total games. He showed everyone why he deserved a chance in the first place. Sure, he struggled at times but he played much better than the man that beat him out in training camp.
2018 first round pick Billy Price was named the starter before the season began. After suffering through the years of Russell Bodine, a fresh face was welcome. Price had a rocky start to his career. He suffered injuries and inconsistent play throughout the season. Power rushers seemed to give him issues while he was being driven back into the pocket. There were also plenty of mental lapses that saw free rushers coming up the middle because Price made the wrong read. There were bright spots for the rookie though. Price flashed as a pass protector and showed nice agility on pulls and getting to the second level.
Hopkins filled in nicely when Price went down with an injury. Honestly he outplayed the rookie. Hopkins had his share of struggles as a guard but really stepped it up when playing as the pivot. He made his adjustments, handled both power rushers and gap shooters reasonably well, and came down on linebackers very well at times. There may be a future at center for Hopkins if Price proves unable to hold down that position.
Going into 2019 the left side of the offensive line appears set and ready to go. Cordy Glenn appears to be the answer at left tackle for the foreseeable future and Clint Boling has not fallen off enough to warrant replacement just yet. Price was a first round pick so he will get every opportunity to lock down the center position. He is smart enough and technical enough to improve and become a very good starting center. Worst case scenario he bumps out guard, where he excelled early in his college career.
The right side of the offense line needs a makeover. I believe Westerman deserves a chance to earn the right guard position but the new coaching staff may believe differently. Hopkins isn’t a bad option there either but could stand to be upgraded. The Bengals will be transitioning to more of a zone team so they could look to add more athletic options in free agency or the draft. Recently released T.J. Lang would be an interesting short term option at 31 years old. Chris Lindstrom from Boston College and Garrett Bradbury out of NC State are draft options for the Bengals to keep an eye on.
Bobby Hart and Andre Smith are both set to be free agents so there is an opportunity to improve the position. There is a need even if one or both are back. The free agent group deserves a look with players like Ja’Wuan James and Daryl Williams being names to watch. The offensive tackle draft class looks very strong so don’t be surprised if Cincinnati takes guys like Alabama’s Jonah Williams or Washington State’s Andre Dillard in the first round.
The offensive line was much improved in 2018 but still needs a lot of work. Glenn, Boling, and Price are entrenched as the starters going into 2019. There will be competition for the right guard and right tackle spots that should include new faces via free agency and the draft. Building the team from the inside out should be a priority for this new coaching staff and they have a good base to start from.