Updated: 5:55 p.m.
As the Bengals opened their first of 12 organized team activity (OTA) sessions Tuesday, the offensive line was the center of attention.
Early in practice Andrew Whitworth lined up at left tackle with first-round draft pick Andre Smith at right tackle. Nate Livings (left) and Bobbie Williams (right) manned the guard positions while Kyle Cook was the center.
And that's the way it's going to stay for a long time. Or at least when you're talking about the tackles and the way head coach Marvin Lewis envisions it. He said after practice that's how the tackles are going to line up as long as he's the head coach.
"When I watched (Smith) on tape, that's what he looked like to me. It looked like he would have an opportunity to be real successful," Lewis said. "I feel real good about Andrew and what he can do on the other side. I feel like that kind of locks us down for a lot of years for two very key spots ... as long as I'm here.
"It fits the pieces the right way. Nate did a lot of good things at the end of last year getting an opportunity to play for the first time when we played real football. But we've got some other guys competing there with (Andrew) Crummey and (Evan) Mathis. We have to see what we've got."
What they have in Whitworth is a guy that made 10 starts at left tackle as rookie in 2006 when the Bengals missed the playoffs by a game before he moved inside. But he's always considered himself a left tackle and that's where he made 52 starts at LSU while giving up one sack. He reminded folks the last time he lined up with Livings at left tackle before Tuesday the Tigers won the national title in 2003.
"Now that I've got a chance to be the left tackle, I want to devote myself to being the guy they can rely on as their franchise guy; that's where I want myself," Whitworth said. "You're playing on an island and there's a different tempo to things you do at tackle and guard. There'll be a change in tempo, a little bit of a transition getting used to that."
What they have in Cook is a guy the Bengals believe played tough and smart last preseason before a broken toe in warmups of the fifth game of the year robbed him of a chance to get playing time. Although he's never taken an NFL snap, he compares his past two seasons in the system to a college redshirt.
"I feel very comfortable; we had a good day out there," Cook said. "We came out talking and getting the right calls down across the board. All five guys together on the same page. That's the biggest thing. If you've got five guys, six guys with the tight end that can communicate, work together, and come off the ball in union ... look at the good teams. New England, places like that where guys have meshed together and worked as one."
Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowksi said center is Cook's job to lose, but the club plans to give other players looks. Yet as offensive line coach Paul Alexander said, they don't have much time for open tryouts and that the way the line looked Tuesday is pretty much how they think it's going to look: "It's not going to be American Idol."
Quarterback Carson Palmer endorsed his new left tackle (Whitworth and Levi Jones are the only ones he's ever had) with, "Whit can play any position we ask him to play," and that includes tight end and fullback. He also predicted he'd play "at a Pro Bowl level.
"Kyle's smart enough and capable and athletic enough to step right in and take over and do a great job for us," Palmer said.
Alexander said he's confident the 6-4, 305-pound Cook is big enough to block the AFC North nose tackles, and Cook said he thinks the decision to go to more zone runs fits an athletic offensive line.
Smith said it is the first time in his life he ever lined up at right tackle, but he said he wasn't disappointed.
"Whatever I can do to help the team," he said.
For the first time on a football field, Smith put his right hand on the ground. That's where a right tackle has to put it even though he has been doing the opposite since he can remember.
"Never in my life. But it feels fine. It's just a little different. It's a great chance to learn something different," he said. "The more positions you can play, the more valuable you are to your team. That's how I see it."
Smith also revealed he has yet to decide on an agent, but wouldn't elaborate. The agent he had during the draft, Rick Smith, had scheduled a meeting with Bengals negotiators this week. Rick Smith had no comment Tuesday.
» In the three wide receiver set, Laveranues Coles and Chris Henry lined up as the two wides with Andre Caldwell in the slot. Chad Ochocinco is not participating in the voluntary session and Henry lined up in his X spot. Palmer predicted Henry will "have a great year," and he said he could see Henry playing 50 to 60 snaps a game in that spot even though he's primarily worked out of three-receiver sets. Palmer said the first play out of the huddle Tuesday, Henry read the blitz and executed his "hot" route.
» Stretching without their helmets and apparently not taking part in today's session were defensive end Robert Geathers (knee), safety Marvin White (knee), rookie tight end Chase Coffman (foot), and cornerback Simeon Castille (unknown). Also not on the field was Jeremi Johnson. Working at fullback are rookies Fui Vakapuna and Chris Pressley.
Lewis said Johnson has chosen to work out with a personal trainer.
» Palmer's elbow concerns were dispelled early when he threw an easy 45-yard floater on the money downfield to Henry, who caught it in stride.
"It feels like it did before I hurt my elbow," Palmer said.
» Rashad Jeanty is getting snaps at SAM linebacker ahead of second-round pick Rey Maualuga.
"I've got to learn," Maualuga said.
Maualuga may have been working with the second team, but no one expects that to continue for long. Lewis said they are competing and it appeared that Maualuga and Jeanty took pretty close to the same number of snaps.
"It's a learning process for me. I'm having a great time," Maualuga said. "Rashad Jeanty is doing a great job helping me. Some guys who are veterans don't help guys because it's all about taking a job on the team. He does a great job helping me. He helped a lot. I've got a long way to go."
But Maualuga does think he can conquer SAM after playing the middle at USC if he can adjust to doing one thing:
"Just covering the tight end. I never had the experience in college covering the tight end," he said. "It's a learning process. It's something I can see myself doing."