Andy Dalton's offensive line is undergoing major changes.
Andy Dalton is the captain on the bridge and while there is plenty of turbulence up there he doesn't see any icebergs despite losing his two best pass protectors on Thursday after a season the Bengals allowed their quarterback to get hit with the seventh most sacks in the league.
"There's no panic on my end," Dalton said Thursday from Dallas. "I feel like we've got a lot of talent. We just have to put it all together."
Dalton got dumped 41 times last season and according to profootballfocus.com the guys that left Thursday gave up just five of them. Right guard Kevin Zeitler took his one sack and got a record $60 million in Cleveland. Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth took his four sacks and got signed through age 38 with the Rams.
"We're going to have to figure it out," Dalton said. "Those are big shoes to fill. Whit arguably has been the best tackle in the NFL for a while. Guys are going to have to step up and play because obviously that's a big piece of what we do."
Two veteran tackles in Whitworth and Andre Smith greatly facilitated the rapid rise of the Dalton-Green era in 2011. On paper, the Bengals drafted their successors in 2015 when for the first time in their history they drafted tackles in the first two rounds, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, respectively.
But Ogbuehi was benched after giving up eight sacks in 11 games at right tackle and is now on the left side while Fisher is looking at making just his fourth start at right tackle on Opening Day.
Dalton refutes the notion the departures of Whitworth and Zeitler indicate the Bengals are focused more on development than contending.
"We feel like we've got talent," Dalton said. "It's one of those things it's going to be Ced and it's going to be Fish and there is going be a lot expected from them this year. I'm not going to say it's rebuilding. But we feel like those guys are very talented and we just have to put it all together.
"We've had really good continuity since I've been here playing with the same guys and not every team has that. For us it's going to be a new way of doing things with the new guys. It's just the business of the league. You see it with our guys. They got contracts they deserve. The same goals are in mind. Win as many games as you can, win the Super Bowl. There are just different guys doing it."
With the loss of Whitworth and the potential loss of nose tackle Domata Peko, the locker room is going to undergo a culture shock. They have been the leaders on their respective sides of the ball since they've won three AFC North titles dating back to 2009.
Now only nine players under contract are left from when Dalton-Green arrived in 2011. Only punter Kevin Huber (126), long snapper Clark Harris (120), middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (114), right end Michael Johnson (111), defensive tackle Geno Atkins (105), left end Carlos Dunlap (102), and linebacker Vincent Rey (98) have played in more Bengals games than Dalton (93).
So he knows what that means. But Dalton also feels like he's emerged as a leader. He knows he needs help.
"I feel like I understand our team from a leadership standpoint," Dalton said. "I've got a good grasp of how to handle our guys and how to push different guys. When you lose somebody else like that and a guy that was there before me, it's tough to swallow. More guys are going to have to try and fill that role.
"Whit's been such a great teammate great leader, great person, great friend … More is going to be asked of me, more is going to be asked of other guys. It's just not a playing role, but it's also being a leader of the team. It may not be one guy; it may be multiple guys stepping up in that role."
Dalton, expecting his second child next week, remains steadfastly on the bridge, all about the future that is pretty clear.
"Guys have to play to their potential and just keep improving. That's all we can ask for right now," he said. "In OTAs and training camp those guys are going to get the chance to prove themselves … We've got talent."
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