INDIANAPOLIS - The Bengals moved on from valuable backup center-guard Mike Pollak when they released him Friday into free agency.
In his two seasons with the Bengals, Pollak started nine games at right guard and two more at left guard when he came off the bench in the wake of injuries to right guard Kevin Zeitler and right tackle Andre Smith. He played well and helped them go 7-3-1 in the games he started.
Pollak, scheduled to count $1.4 million against this year's salary cap in the middle season of a three-year deal, turned 30 earlier this week. A balky knee kept him out of practice at least once a week during the season and it looks like the Bengals are trying to get a little younger and healthier inside.
They'll look late in the draft and free agency for depth, but first they'd like to re-sign starting left guard Clint Boling as he's about to become a free agent. They were high on undrafted rookie guard Trey Hopkins before his season ended with a broken leg in a preseason game. T.J. Johnson, a seventh-round pick in 2013, has played in just four games. Backup tackle Tanner Hawkinson, a fifth-round pick in 2013 who has played some guard in practice and preseason, has also only played in four games
The depth is going to look much different on the offensive line, where it's expected Eric Winston re-signs and replaces Marshall Newhouse as the backup right tackle.
BACKERS AND RUSHERS: Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther arrived at the NFL scouting combine with a bit of a different take than the one that brought you Vontaze Burfict, Emmanuel Lamur and Jayson DiManche from the ranks of the undrafted linebackers. It's also where Vincent Rey emerged.
"I was my own position coach at the time. I always said just wait until after the draft, I'll find somebody we can get," Guenther said during a break Friday. "Vinny was one of them, E-man, Vontaze. But, to me, in the draft if you can win in rounds five, six, seven and free agency to me that makes your draft. Everybody is going to have their mock draft. The first, second, maybe even the third round. you get past that and you are in the last day and free agency if you can pick up a couple guys who can make your roster that's where you make hay. "
But the rapid attrition last year from injuries drove home the point they need depth and quickly and they're looking to get it earlier in the draft.
"There were a couple of games there we were really thin," Guenther said. "It's hard to bring in a guy in week nine and he's missed all the time, all the coaching points, all everything, and say we're going to simplify the whole defense for one guy. Towards the end of the season I was like, gee, if somebody gets hurt, somebody has to go in there that doesn't have much experience being a Bengal."
Also Friday, Guenther said:
-His top priority is upgrading the pass rush, but they'll also look at free-agent defensive ends.
-He's confident cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard, two of their last three No. 1 picks, are going to play a lot more this season and push to start.
-He says from what he's been told, Pro Bowl WILL backer Vontaze Burfict, recovering from microfracture knee surgery, will be ready for the opener.
-Guenther raised eyebrows last month in and out of Paul Brown Stadium when he called out Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins after his disappointing season. Guenther said he needed to play better and thinks he will now that he is more than a year removed from ACL surgery. Since Guenther had told Atkins the same thing, he didn't think it was that big of a deal. When asked about it at the Pro Bowl, Atkins shrugged and said, "It's his opinion." Guenther says they've talked since.
"We're good. That's how it is," Guenther said. " We meet a lot together as a defense. We don't break up too much. When we're together, everybody is accountable."
He expects Atkins to come back and bigger stronger because he'll have a normal offseason in the weight room.