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Bengals line enjoying jolt of youth

Posted Nov 16, 2012


Trevor Robinson

Careful not to violate head coach Marvin Lewis's 24-hour rule following the one-hit shutout of the Giants, Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander practiced some clock management.

"I knew it would be easy for me to celebrate past 4 p.m. the next day," Alexander admitted after Thursday's practice. "But I literally set the alarm on my phone and when it went off Monday I had to be grouchy."

Of course, prepping for the 11th-ranked Chiefs defense that the Bengals will see Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Arrowhead Stadium can put a line coach in a funk. Kansas City's estimable pass rushers have put Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a sling, No. 1 pick Dontari Poe is a load at nose tackle and linebackers Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston run and hit all day in a 3-4 alignment that has five first-round picks.

And rookie center Trevor Robinson is making his first-ever start at center on the road in one of the NFL's decibel dandies against the massive 346-pound Poe.

"(Poe) has 50 pounds on him," Alexander said. "I told Robinson that he has to eat this week."

But if the 6-5, 305-pound Robinson isn't eating, the undrafted free agent from Notre Dame and the rest of the offensive line are at least allowing the Bengals to sleep better. Despite Robinson being surrounded by basically two rookies themselves in second-year left guard Clint Boling and rookie right guard Kevin Zeitler, the offense line is being feted and not fractured.  

Dave Lapham, the Bengals radio analyst who played every line position during 10 seasons with the team, is impressed with the athleticism of the new interior. And the web site ProFootballFocus has rated both guards in the top 10 while ranking the offensive line fifth-best in the NFL.

"We have two good guards for a long time," Alexander said. "They're both athletic, smart, strong. They have to get better and they will. I like them."

Lapham is of the same mind, but he really opened his eyes when he saw Robinson pulling on the second snap of last Sunday's game.

"It shows you how athletic he is," Lapham said. "Centers do it now more than they did, but it's still impressive. He looks like an excellent athlete."

The Bengals expect it out of their veteran tackles and they show that confidence every time they line up left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right tackle Andre Smith to block the league' best pass rushers one-on-one.

After blanking the Giants pass rush that brought New York the Super Bowl title last year, Whitworth and Smith face two more good ones in outside right backer Tamba Hali and left outside backer Justin Houston. Hali knocked out Roethlisberger and according to profootballfocus.com, Houston is generating the second-most pressures per snap among the NFL's edge rushers.

Whitworth is a bit surprised that the line is suddenly getting some acclaim in wake of the Giants game because he thinks they've done a pretty good job protecting quarterback Andy Dalton all year.

"That's one of those things where the catches are made and the touchdowns are thrown, all of a sudden we protected him," Whitworth said. "Andy is one of the least hit quarterbacks in our league. There is no doubt about that. That's not really something I think is a great example (the Giants game), that is just something that can happen when we go make plays, we protect the quarterback and the defense plays the way they did. That's a great thing for the team, that's a great team win but every week you are going to have new challenges and we are going to have a new one this week and we've got to go out and do the same thing."

Dalton was named AFC Player of the Week and Whitworth laughed when asked if the offernsive line should have a weekly award. He said he would have given it to Smith for blocking New York's Jason Tuck, although Whitworth blocked Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora. 

But the Bengals will need more good play from the kids on Sunday. Robinson says the Arrowhead din shouldn't be a problem because "the trigger for me to snap the ball is pretty minor in what I'm doing." Alexander certainly expects Robinson to keep his head because that's a big reason the club signed him and moved him from guard to center the minute he arrived from South Bend.

"He's really smart and competitive; he doesn't scare, "Alexander said. "He's a terrific technician. He gets football. He's a football junkie. He can be a good center."

He'll have to be good Sunday. Robinson thinks he's getting there. He seems to be coping with the physical part of it but the biggest adjustment, he says, has been the pre-snap reads.

"When I was brand new here, it was pretty much, my guy, my assignment," Robinson said. "And it was tough seeing the whole field. Now I'm starting to be able to scan the field and get a better idea about what's going on."

It helps that none of the interior guys suffer from big-state fright. All three played in the big-time in college and Zeitler played well enough at the NFL assembly O-line in Wisconsin that the Bengals had him rated higher than the other first-round guard, Stanford's David DeCastro. PFF has Zeitler as the NFL's fourth-best guard.

Boling, on the other hand, quietly rolls along as all fourth-rounders do. But PFF has him rated second in the league protecting the passer.

"I like Boling," Lapham said. "He just does his job and if you're doing your job as an offensive lineman, you don't get noticed. And look, you never hear about him."

Whitworth, who suddenly turns 31 next month, thinks the Giants game is going to help the young guys with their confidence.

"No doubt about it. We've got a young interior that doesn't have a lot of experience. So for them, I can remember being in that position from a guy that played really early," Whitworth said. "Every game you have like this is a stepping stone, it's a building block for them and gaining confidence in what worked and what doesn't against guys. For them the biggest difference, probably more so at left tackle, even for them, there is a lot of guys they have never played before. They are learning guys and there's a big difference between film and doing it live."

They get another live shot in the din Sunday.

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