Before Sunday's practice inside Paul Brown Stadium, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden settled down to the idea that second-year man Clint Boling is his new left guard.
With Travelle Wharton done for the year on a knee injury sustained in the season's third snap during the 17-6 victory over the Jets, Gruden has to find a guy to replace Boling as the first guard and center off the bench.
Otis Hudson can't play center, but his play Friday night left the coaches encouraged because it was a lot better than what he's showed during camp. Hudson, a 2010 fifth-round pick, had an impressive training camp last year before he hurt his knee and missed all of the preseason games. After Hudson regressed a bit, he showed up Friday night.
"Otis has had some rocky times in training camp," Gruden said. "I think these next three weeks are going to be very important for Otis. If he comes along like we hope ...
"I was probably too hard on him with some of the physical and mental mistakes he made," said Gruden, acknowledging that Hudson hadn't practiced this much in about two years. "He showed some promise in the game."
After Sunday's practice, Hudson sounded like he had it figured out and was going back to the 2011 template.
"Last year I didn't care about making mistakes and I didn't care about being perfect," Hudson said. "I was like if I make a mistake I will just correct it on film. This year I am more worried about technique and being perfect. I think I am slowly getting back to not caring about making a mistake just doing the best I can each and every play.
"(It's a) little different from last year to this year because I feel I have to learn everything all over again. I am not a complete player at this point. I know I have to continue to work on my pass pro."
Hudson seems to realize the next three weeks are all about relaxing.
"Sometimes I feel brand new at the game. Still nervous out there in practice. I just have to relax and let the game come to me more," he said.
Gruden has also liked the looks of free-agent rookie Trevor Robinson, a guard at Notre Dame who has made a good transition to center. Reggie Stephens, a seventh-round pick in 2010, is a center by trade and is getting a look a guard after he got cut last year and re-signed back in May.
"He's done some good things," Gruden said.
Offensive line coach Paul Alexander also likes Robinson.
"He's going to have to learn the game but I like him," he said. "He's smart, competitive and has talent."
Gruden said Boling has been playing well enough that even before Wharton got hurt the Bengals hadn't set the lineup yet and he was getting consideration for playing time.
"He's playing lower. He was getting bull-rushed. Guys were getting under him," Gruden said of Boling's improvement over his rookie year. "He's an intelligent player."
There seems to be no doubt about the right side, home of first-round pick Kevin Zeitler.
"The positives are he can match up and block those guys. Not once did he look out of place or overwhelmed," Alexander said. "There were plays where he looked like a 10-year vet. There were other plays where he had experience which is going to help him. In terms of where he is at though, I like where he is at."
Some Gruden observations off the game:
» He says wide receiver A.J. Green is beating himself up over his dropped TD pass Friday night so he hasn't had to say much to him, except, "I don't think that's going to happen very often."
» He liked how efficiently quarterback Andy Dalton operated, but he thinks Dalton would like two throws back.
On the second snap of the game Dalton had Green wide open on a quick slant after he lined up in the slot and Dalton threw it too quickly, probably because the gaping hole invited a big play.
And on third-and-four from the Jets 4, Dalton locked in on tight end Jermaine Gresham as the Jets showed blitz. When they bailed out and dropped eight defenders, Dalton had nowhere else to go.
» Gruden thought backup right tackle Dennis Roland played well at right guard and he'll see more time inside as the O-line adjusts to Boling becoming the starter.