MOBILE, Ala. - Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis appears to still be canvassing potential new offensive coaches but one of the priorities in the draft on offense remains acquiring guard help and there is plenty of talent teeming in offensive line coach Paul Alexander's meeting room here at the Under Armour Senior Bowl.
With right guard Bobbie Williams headed into the last year of his deal and left guard a question, the North naturally ended up with four left tackles. But it turns out Alexander has a young crop of Andrew Whitworths. They are smart, huge, athletic and anchored by Boston College's 6-7, 305-pound Anthony Castonzo.
Alexander saw Castonzo had been nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship and immediately signed him up to count the linemen's snaps as they rotated through practice. He also tapped Castanzo to play both tackle spots this week, as well as right guard, where it appears he's going to start. It's the first time he's played guard since his freshman year in high school in suburban Chicago and Alexander has seen enough to proclaim, "He's going to have a long career in the NFL" as a guy that can play every spot but center.
Whitworth started as a guard but has become the club's best offensive lineman at left tackle since he was selected with the 55th pick in the 2006 second round. The Bengals have a much higher pick in the second round this trip, but Castonzo and another left tackle that can play four spots, Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi, could be gone by then. Yet the South is also stocked with potential guard-tackle types in what the Bengals feel is the Senior Bowl's best offensive line group in years.
"Good group, good group," Alexander said after Wednesday's practice. "We had a wide receiver screen today and they just blew up people all down the field."
The Bengals are looking for an athletic guard that can pull consistently for the first time since the Eric Steinbach days and there'll be plenty of pulling in Saturday's game.
"I was talking to one offensive line coach of (an NFL) club and what really jumped out to him was the versatility," Lewis said. "To be a young guy in the NFL and to be able to play a couple of different spots right now is a good thing."
Castonzo and his 3.5 grade point average have seamlessly handled not only the transition to tackle to guard, but also the move of left to right.
"There's more close combat. You have to play much more square," Castonzo said. "You don't get to put a foot back. At tackle, if a guy starts out on the edge, you're fine. You don't even have to push him if he's going upfield, but at guard if you do that he's going to be in the face of the quarterback. You have to be square and cut him off."
While Castonzo says he likes playing in space at tackle, he also says, "I like guard. I'll play anywhere they want me." But it is the 6-7, 315-pound Carimi that reminds Alexander of Whitworth.
"He's all man. He's very physical. He's very serious," Alexander said. "He's got the demeanor of a 30-year-old. He's got the same kind of temperament."
Alexander likes Castonzo's personality and sense of humor, the kinds of things that will now sprinkle the coaches' scouting reports because they've lived with them all week. His family owns an Italian restaurant and he's got that maitre de strain that never met a stranger. He also wants to be a doctor "after what is hopefully a long and successful career in the NFL."
"After that Southern Fried chicken we had for lunch the other day," Alexander said, "he could have opened his first clinic right here in Mobile."
Actually, Castonzo wants to be a cancer researcher and it just so happens that his BC teammate in this game is linebacker Mark Herzlich, a guy that beat cancer last year. They've put their heads together and have already come up with a plan for a foundation. Herzlich will sell it with his marketing degree, one of two degrees he has, while Castonzo anchors the research.
"I've always liked science and I think cancer is a situation where people get trapped," he said. "They have an opportunity to realize their dreams are taken away and it's not right. It would be awesome just to save one person."
This week's pursuits are more mundane and predictable. Alexander has the rhythm of the week down pat.
"You really play three games down here," he said. "You get your feet wet Monday and then Tuesday all the coaches and scouts are here and you're in pads and taped up. It's the same thing Wednesday, so it's a doubleheader. Then Wednesday afternoon all the coaches and scouts are running and scrambling to get afternoon flights out. So you're worn down from those two days, but everyone is gone, so you tick it back Thursday and Friday and get ready to play Saturday."
And because he has such a good group, Alexander can tell exactly which day is which. He knows what happens Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
"You have to finish and you have to be jerks," Alexander said. "You get that one extra push in after the whistle and there's going to be a nice big mark that they like and they put it next to your name."
Then it should be an open book Saturday.