The Bengals' re-shuffled offensive line tried to pull it off for a second straight game Sunday, this time against the undefeated Steelers in Pittsburgh when they started rookie left tackle Hakeem Adeniji and transplanted left guard Quinton Spain at right tackle on their first series of the game at Heinz Field.
Head coach Zac Taylor, who in the pregame presented a list that had Adeniji starting at right tackle, had vowed not to announce his starting offensive line until he rolled it out and he was true to his word.
Starting left tackle Jonah Williams (neck-stinger) was active after being limited in every practice last week, but he would apparently be used only in emergency. With right tackle Bobby Hart (knee) on the inactive list and backup Fred Johnson on the Covid list, the Bengals turned to Spain, already an intriguing figure even before making his first Bengals start and what is believed to be his first NFL start at right tackle.
The 6-4, 330-pound Spain made one of the more memorable Bengals debuts two weeks ago when he showed up Friday and played 62 snaps that Sunday at left guard without committing a penalty and allowing just one pressure as the Bengals beat the favored Titans, 31-20, without quarterback Joe Burrow getting sacked. Or hit, according to Pro Football Focus.
Spain's play was the centerpiece of a remarkable effort by the offensive line that started four different players from the week before.
That was the first time that had happened to them since they used replacement players in the 1987 strike. Now it has happened in two straight games.
Spain, a six-year veteran making his 67th NFL start, immediately impressed the coaches with his experience and feel for the game and must have kept doing it last week in practice. Other potential emergency tackles were already back in the starting lineup with center Trey Hopkins and left guard Michael Jordan returning after they missed the Titans game.
It's quite a challenge after quelling Tennessee, which had one of the worst pass rushes in the league. The Steelers are poles apart, leading the NFL in sacks and quarterbacks pressures with an attack led by their relentless outside rushers. T.J. Watt, lined up over Spain, leads the NFL with 24 quarterback hits to go along with seven sacks and Bud Dupree, with six sacks and 11 hits, lines up over Adeniji. Watt and Dupree have combined for 36 sacks in the past 24 games.
Adeniji, a sixth-round pick out of Kansas, drew rave reviews after his first NFL start against Tennessee. Pro Football Focus had him allowing just three hurries and one false start on 42 pass plays.