Ced Era dawns in wake of Whit departure

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Only Anthony Munoz (185) and Willie Anderson (181) played more games on the Bengals offensive line than Andrew Whitworth's 168 as primarily a tackle.

The Cedric Ogbuehi Era has begun as the Bengals bid farewell to one of their most celebrated players and leaders in franchise history.

Andrew Whitworth, a three-time Pro Bowler who has played the third most games ever on the Bengals offensive line as primarily a tackle, has played his last one and is now the starting left tackle for the Los Angeles Rams, according to multiple reports.

After Whitworth broke the bank Thursday on what has been reported as a three-year deal for $36 million with $15 million guaranteed, the Bengals are banking on Ogbuehi to rebound from last season's benching at right tackle and reach the potential he flashed on the left side for Texas A&M when they made him their first-round pick in 2015.

Ogbuehi woke up Thursday morning in, of all places, Whitworth's new home. He's training in Los Angeles at a facility called "Unbreakable."

Told of Whitworth's deal, Ogbuehi asked "How many years? I'm happy for him."  He knows exactly what it means.

"I've got to go in there and prove a lot of people wrong and prove that I can play the position," Ogbeuhi said. "Last year was just a bad year. Plain and simple. I learned a lot. Just going through all the trials and tribulations. And never wanting to ever have that feeling again."

Ogbuehi, who turns 25 next month, doesn't have a track record on the left side, where he has made one start. His move to the right side after playing primarily left at A&M blew up in the wake of Andre Smith's free-agent departure and he was benched after 11 games. Because of injuries he has yet to practice in the spring and last year he got hurt in his only pre-season game. The hope is health and a return to his best position are the answers.

The bull rush is what sent Ogbuehi to the bench more than anything and he says he's been in L.A. for three weeks concentrating on growing and bulking up his 310 pounds. He says he'll move on to position drills closer to the Bengals' off-season workouts, which begin April 17.

"I feel more comfortable on the left side and I'm healthy," said Ogbuehi, who nicked his shoulder in last season's finale. "I feel like I'm ready. I feel better over there."

Whitworth's departure leaves an enormous hole on quarterback Any Dalton's blind side and in the locker room, where he was a relentless leader whose rise as an offensive captain mirrored the Bengals' most successful regular-season stretch ever. Since Whitworth became the left tackle in 2009 the Bengals won three AFC North titles and went to the postseason six times.

Whitworth's deal crafted by Rams general manager Les Snead is at the polar opposite of the Bengals' philosophy. Cincinnati runs its salary cap from year to year and stays away from putting potential "dead," money in future years for players that may not be on the roster.

The Bengals realize that Whitworth has built one of the best careers in club history on and off the field and wanted him to return for at least another year. It's believed they were willing to pay him as much as $12 million for this year and then gauge 2018 later. But they weren't looking to go multiple years for a guy that turns 36 in December for fear of that dead money as they try to find a younger alternative. The Bengals aren't expected to sign a veteran at that spot and there look to be no tackles ranked within range of their ninth pick in the April 27-29 draft. One option is to trade back and eye a top prospect like Wisconsin's Ryan Ramczyk.

"(Whitworth) is the ultimate leader in the locker room. He's a special kind of player," Ogbuehi said. "Replacing a guy like that (in the locker room) who played so long takes time. It takes a lot of guys to step up."

Ogbuehi knows how big the shoes are he's trying to fill. And he also knows what people are thinking after last season's failed experiment at right.

"The pressure comes from myself trying to go in and prove people wrong," he said. "All it takes is one good year to get everybody turned around."

Whitworth, a second-round pick in 2006 out of LSU, played both left tackle and guard before replacing Levi Jones for good in 2009.  His 168 games are fourth most among Bengals offensive linemen, but third most among those who played primarily tackle. Hall-of-Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz played in 185 from 1980-92 and four-time Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson played 181 from 1996-07. Guard-center Bruce Kozerski played 172 games from 1984-95. 

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