Posted: 10:30 a.m.
A mere 10 months ago the Bengals offensive line was stunned by the departure of right tackle Stacy Andrews in a free-agency move that forced massive renovations.
Now after Andrews lost his starting job after one game in Philadelphia, the Bengals head into the offseason looking to improve a blossoming group that came out of nowhere to lead them to their first top 10 rushing finish since record-setting running back Corey Dillon led an assault to No. 2 in the league in 2000.
The No. 9 ranking comes after three seasons the Bengals finished as low as 29th and no higher than 24th and they did it with just one lineman that started in the same spot in 2008, just one who had started in at least 50 NFL games, and a center and right tackle that didn’t have an NFL start in their spots.
But if he was admittedly worried sick last year, offensive line coach Paul Alexander is now excited about what this O-line can do with another year together.
“Too many holding calls and the rookies still have to keep working on their pass-blocking techniques,” Alexander said this week. “But another spring and training camp together can only help us.”
Alexander won’t say much about his new three-year deal. In fact, as he heads into his 16th season as line coach, he’ll say nothing about it. But he has plenty of plans.
He’s hoping free-agent right guard
Alexander isn’t saying for sure that the 340-pound Smith is the 2010 starter and he indicated that the coaches are intrigued enough with the rotations they used at some spots. But he also liked what he saw at the end of the season when Smith was getting more and more of the snaps in his shuffle with
“I’ve got to look at the cutups and we have to sort through who is going to be where,” Alexander said. “Andre is going to be a good player. He had a high percentage of ‘Wow blocks.’ He had some of the best pancakes I’ve ever seen. And Bobbie is still one of the few guys in the league who can line up and blow a guy off the line of scrimmage at the point of attack.”
Whitworth wasn’t one of the biggest of the questions at the beginning of the season because he had played well at left guard and he played well enough at left tackle as a rookie in 2006. But he wasn’t a known entity over 16 games, either. Yet now the Bengals see him as a slam dunk.
“As long as he’s breathing,” said Alexander when asked if Whitworth is his left tackle. “I even graded him higher than he did. He told you he gave up 1.5 sacks? I’ve got him for one. He had one sack. That’s excellent.”
Alexander said he also gave high grades to the left guard tandem of
“They like each other, they respect each other,” Alexander said. “I think it’s a big reason they graded so well. They push each other.”
The biggest question mark was center
“He panned out. Smart, tough, he’ll only get better,” Alexander said of Cook.
The holding calls are a concern (“way too many”), but Alexander also knows it was a season that they were up all over the league because of the emphasis placed on it before the year started and he wants to see how the NFL Competition Committee reacts. He also knows some of it may be because the Bengals were doing so many different things when it came to unbalanced alignments and rotations.
“That was exciting. Especially with the rotations and playing so many guys. I’ve never seen anybody do it as much as we did, but I think it helped us,” he said, but he was non-committal when asked if there would more of it next season.
“Who knows?” he asked. “The challenge for us is to come up with something just as novel.”