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O-Line Gurus Praise Bengals' Reported Additions As Free Agency Opens

Ted Karras looks like Opening Day center.
Ted Karras looks like Opening Day center.

According to two offensive line gurus intimately familiar with the Bengals, Monday's reports bannering the arrival of two veteran interior players via free agency have upgraded quarterback Joe Burrow's offensive line.

Dave Lapham, the Bengals long-time radio analyst after a decade on the field as the franchise's most versatile offensive lineman, is banking on the newcomers firming up the inside of quarterback Joe Burrow's pocket.

"Both of them come from winning organizations, they've both been well coached and they're both in the prime of their careers. They're in the sweet spot," Lapham says. "Be sturdy and strong in there, not get the middle of the pocket pushed back in the quarterback's face … I think that's the way they've played to this point."

They can't announce the deals of Tampa Bay right guard Alex Cappa and Patriots guard-center Ted Karras (ticketed for center) until Wednesday afternoon. But twitter already has with Cappa reportedly on a four-year, $40 million pact and Karras here for three years at $18 million as both eye Opening Day starts.

For weeks the Bengals have been entwined in the media with Cappa's center in Tampa Bay, Ryan Jensen. Jensen, who turns 31 in two months, was an enticing get. But when he re-upped with the Bucs Sunday night on a three-year deal averaging $13 million, just a few hours after his quarterback, Tom Brady, came out of retirement, the Bengals conjured up memories of last year's free agency.

The numbers weren't the same, but the idea was. They got two younger starting linemen for nearly the price of one at about a $15 million average. Last year they traded cornerback William Jackson III's $14 million average for about the same for cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton.

Cappa, 27, and Karras, who turns 29 Tuesday, have Brady in common. In Karras' first season as a starter, he was Brady's last center in New England during a 12-4 season in 2019. When Brady went to Tampa the next two seasons, Cappa was his starting right guard on teams that went 24-9 and won the Super Bowl last year.

"They're both reliable, smart, gritty guys," says Paul Alexander, an offensive line trainer and analyst since his nearly 30 years coaching in the NFL, 23 on the Bengals offensive line.

Alexander, who is working with 11 draft prospects this spring, knows Cappa better than Karras. He worked with him at LeCharles Bentley's offensive line academy when Cappa was coming out of Humboldt State in 2018.

"I was really impressed with how good of a technician he was coming out of a small school," Alexander says. "Great kid. Smart. Intense. Had good technique. He had all the talent and intangibles you look for. I watched him a fair amount this year and he's at the right age. He's ascending. That's what you're looking for. Ascending players and he's one of them."

The Bucs took Cappa in the 2018 third round. Karras came out two years earlier from Illinois when the Patriots took him in the sixth round. Lapham loves Karras' versatility, but it looks like they're grooming him for center. Karras was the starting center for the Pats in 2019 and Miami in 2020 before he came back and had 13 starts at both guards last season in New England.

The Bengals clearly felt like they needed immediate help inside after Burrow was sacked 70 times this past season and still went to the Super Bowl. The moves also suggests they have faith in some potential young right tackles, such as second-year man D'Ante Smith. But it's still so early in free agency that nothing is official yet.

Lapham knows that Karras was drafted into an offensive line coached by Dante Scarnecchia, one of the greatest position coaches of all-time and a staple of head coach Bill Belichick's Patriots dynasty. Scarnecchia's last of his 34 seasons with New England in 2019 was Karras' first as the starting center.

"If you're playing for the Patriots, you've proven you can play," Lapham says. "Their offensive line always has been known to play well."

After a season Pro Football Focus had the Bengals offensive line graded so lowly, both Cappa (25) and Karras (21) are among the top 25 guards. Cappa is supposed to be a superb down-hill run blocker who allowed five sacks last season. But he allowed no sacks in 2020.

"I think his best trait is he's a solid, reliable player," Alexander says. "He's good on the run. He's good on the pass. He's smart. I think that's a good way to describe (Karras), too. Tough gritty guys that have been around."

Lapham says the one thing the line has to make sure it shores up is standing up to the inside bull rush. He thinks Cappa and Karras are built for it.

He's also appreciative that in more than 3,000 career snaps in his four seasons, Cappa has committed just four penalties, one over the last two seasons and none last year.

"He doesn't self-destruct," Lapham says.

In almost the same number of snaps, Karras has just eight flags. Meanwhile, three Bengals offensive linemen had at least five penalties this past season.

"It seems like they're physical, aggressive guys,' Lapham says. "There's a lot of reasons to be happy with it."

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