One of the few knowns of a stretch the Bengals need to win out heading into Sunday's game in St. Louis (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) is that their offensive line is going to have a major change when Mike McGlynn is expected to make his second start of the season at right guard and second of his career. After all, it's the first time since Nov. 19, 2006 that the Bengals have had to prepare somebody at right guard on the fly in the wake of Bobbie Williams breaking his ankle last Sunday.
The Bengals also know that even if right tackle Andre Smith misses his second straight game with an ankle injury, the changes on their offensive line don't come close to what has happened to the Rams. Injuries and talent have forced St. Louis to make wholesale changes at virtually every spot up front and the Rams have the NFL's 30th-ranked offense to show for it.
It is not ideal for offensive line coach Paul Alexander, who would love to have Williams back next year even though he'll be 36 because he says he continues to play well. But with McGlynn making his 17th NFL start and Anthony Collins looking at possibly his 18th if Smith can't go, Alexander knows he could be in a lot worse shape.
"Bobbie's not dead. I'm not going to eulogize him," Alexander said after Wednesday's practice. "He's a terrific player, great guy, but this is the NFL. The next guy has to come in and play just as well and I expect it to happen."
Alexander, and maybe even more importantly their teammates, has enormous confidence in McGlynn and Collins. McGlynn, a four-year veteran, showed one of the reasons why Wednesday when he showed off his experience in the rough-and-tumble Philadelphia media market.
"You guys got enough?" asked McGlynn after an economical five minutes with the local group. "OK. Thanks."
"I don't worry about McGlynn. He's a smart tough guy and he'll be fine," Alexander said.
On Wednesday, McGlynn talked about how practicing at center since Williams returned from his NFL suspension in the fifth week "will help me immensely" when he goes back to work at right guard this week. Also helpful, he says, is the fact former Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is the Rams head coach and McGlynn went against that scheme plenty not only against New York but in practice, where the Eagles defense is still using the basics of Spagnuolo's mentor, the late Jim Johnson.
"The familiarity is going to help I believe," McGlynn said.
The Bengals are quite familiar with Collins, the fourth-round pick from 2008 who only plays well whenever called upon. Getting the call when Smith went down in Pittsburgh two weeks was no big deal for Collins. When left tackle Andrew Whitworth went down in 2008, Collins's first NFL start came in Pittsburgh at left tackle against one James Harrison.
So the 12 sacks of Rams left end Chris Long in a dome isn't going to intimidate Collins if he has to go Sunday.
"I like the way AC has played the last two weeks," Alexander said. "He's been here four years now. He knows what he's doing. He's a good, solid player. Long is one of the better rushers in the league. He's a savvy player and he's a good run defender."
Collins is showing why some believe he's one of the five best Bengals linemen and that the best combo up front in a post-Williams world might be Smith at right guard and Collins at right tackle. That's moot now because Smith, limited in Wednesday's practice, hasn't had much work at tackle, never mind guard, because of his injuries early on. Plus, Collins's future is unknown because he's a free agent after the season.
As offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said Wednesday, "Anthony Collins could play right tackle for a lot of teams."
"I think Anthony Collins continues to show that he deserves to be a starter in this league. And every time he's had an opportunity he's done that," Whitworth said. "Having been a guy that's been around him the whole time and mentored him since the day he showed up, I remember having him over to eat the first day he was here with the wife and just realizing he was a special kid. It makes me proud every time I see him get on the field and play the way he plays. He plays great and continues to prove he deserves to be a starter.
"He just continues to mature and fix things. That's one of the things I've always encouraged him to do is just keep working on his craft and game and how it can be better. And that's what he's done. When you have guys who have an opportunity to have guys that aren't playing or guys that are good enough to play that aren't, that helps you be good as a line. He is one of those guys that continues to show that he has the ability and just proud of the way he goes in there and plays."
Alexander likes how what he calls "the system of succession" is shaping up.
"That's how we do it. We don't have any free agents. We like to farm our guys and bring them along," Alexander said. "The young guys are growing up until they're the next one ready."
Second-year guard Otis Hudson is now promoted from the practice squad with Williams out and he'll get more snaps in practice, which enthuses Alexander because before Hudson needed a knee scope in this training camp he said Hudson was on his way to becoming "one of the guys."
Fourth-rounder Clint Boling, who started the season's first three games at right guard before the club went to McGlynn, is working on getting stronger "and just learning the pro game," Alexander said. "I've always said it: you don't come out of the womb playing NFL football."
When Williams went out in the second quarter, eyebrows were raised. Running back Cedric Benson had rushed for 92 yards on his first 13 carries against Houston in the first half. After he had just minus-one yard in the second half, everyone wondered if there was a correlation.
The conclusion is that the Texans adjusted their scheme so much to stop the run that it probably wouldn't have mattered all that much.
"I think of course you miss Bobbie Williams the player he is, definitely kind of something that I don't know if it is – when you have a guy go down you are so used to being in there and playing so well that is different for you, but the next guy steps in and does their job," Whitworth said. "But really in the second half there we just had some plays where they brought a lot of heat and had an extra guy on a couple runs and other than that, I'm not real sure, but I don't think we had a whole lot of runs there in the second half. We just had a couple where they blitzed enough people, where they had a couple extra guys."
And while McGlynn admitted he was a bit rusty coming off the bench since he barely had any snaps at right guard in practice in the last two months, he should be sharper in St. Louis.
"They're here every day," Benson of the backups. "They're getting the plays and practice reps. They're not in this league for no reason, so you would expect them to still be a force. I would like to think it's not too much (of a dropoff)."
But what Benson would like to see is the running game get into more "of a rhythm." It has been inconsistent all year. He's only had three 100-yard games, two against Cleveland's next-to-last run defense.
But Alexander also knows the Bengals have played a defense that was ranked at some point in the top five this season every week since Nov. 13, along with eight out of 13 games. The string is broken this week. The Rams are ranked 25th, not to mention last against the run.
"Our 3.9," Alexander said of the club's yards per carry "may be more like 4.3. The one good thing about playing all these good defenses is if we do make the playoffs, it will be good. We'll be hardened for it."