The Bengals went tackle big at right guard for eight years (2004-2011) with Bobbie Williams.
The Bengals are now in the segment of NFL free agency they want to make sure they don't lose the compensation picks they'll get in the 2018 draft for losing right guard Kevin Zeitler (a projected third-rounder) and left tackle Andrew Whitworth, a fifth-rounder.
They announced the Andre Smith signing Thursday and it figures to be a manageable one-year deal that won't impact those two picks. They're also talking to fifth-year Arizona linebacker Kevin Minter, a productive player who hasn't missed a game in the last three years while starting 32 straight games and would young up the backers corps with 26-year-old legs.
The 6-0, 246-pound Minter is a middle backer type, where the 30-year–old Rey Maualuga starts, and where Minter could probably play an outside spot.
The Bengals were talking to former Texans and Eagles pass rusher Connor Barwin, but it was a longshot. He's coming off a big deal, he's more of a 3-4 end, and he was courted by new Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
It was Phillips for whom Barwin had his bust-out year in 2011 in Houston with 11.5 sacks and he's apparently going to start in Los Angeles for a one-year deal that maxes out at $6.5 million. Barwin would have been only a situational pass rusher in Cincinnati.
Smith is in a new situation in old stomping grounds with the Bengals, the team that drafted him No. 1 in 2009 and for whom he started 73 games at right tackle until 2015. The 6-3, 335-pound Smith returned from one season in Minnesota and is lining up next to new right tackle Jake Fisher at right guard for the first time in his career.
"We think he can be a big, powerful guy in there," said Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander Thursday. "We think he has chance to be a really good player for us there."
They also announced a two-year deal for backup guard-center T.J. Johnson after they tendered him for a year at $1.8 million. Johnson flashed his value last season with a career-high 94 snaps that included solid work backing up center and making his first NFL start at left guard after starter Clint Boling went on injured reserve.
Alexander sees a very quick learning curve for Smith.
"It helps he's been on the right side his whole time in pro football," Alexander said. "He's taking the coordination of proper footwork on that side along with the proper hands and pivoting on the proper angles. So that will help him. He knows the system, the techniques, and should be able to pick it up pretty quickly. He's one of the most powerful men in the league. I think with all those big defensive tackles and nose guards we face, he's kind of a good remedy."
Alexander has long thought Smith's size and athleticism are special. It's why he encouraged drafting Smith at No. 6 in the first round.
"He's a good offensive line athlete," Alexander said. "He's not going to run the decathlon or anything, but he gets off the ball well and moves in space well."
The Bengals have had their share of massive guards. (Hello, Bobbie Williams) and it's not the first time Alexander has found guys to do double duty. Whitworth, on the left, and Stacy Andrews (on the right) both started at guard before starting at tackle with Whitworth doing it for eight seasons and Andrews for the one season before they drafted Smith.
Smith's right guard was the huge and powerful Bobbie Williams and their sizes are similar.
"Bobbie was a little thicker man and Andre probably has better foot movement," Alexander said.
This gallery features Bengals players who's college team are represented the NCAA Basketball Tournament