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O-line hopes to pack AFC North for Buffalo


Kevin Zeitler

The Bengals offensive line goes up against one of the NFL's more highly-regarded front sevens Sunday in Buffalo (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) and the Bengals hope they can carry in the momentum of last week's 162-yard rushing effort against the Patriots.

They most likely won't get those kinds of numbers against tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams and Co., two of's three leading tacklers at the interior position, but the Bengals hope they bring the same mentality and efficiency.

Actually, the Bengals have been saying it for a couple of weeks. This line believes the smashmouth approach fits them and so do their coaches.

"They've been trained the right way. They've been around competitive, competitive, physical games for quite a while," says head coach Marvin Lewis. "We don't have any finesse guys. Finesse guys would struggle in our division."

The Bengals line looks like an all-star team from college football's best rushing programs. Just look at Sunday morning's NCAA stats. Right guard Kevin Zeitler's Wisconsin club is ranked fifth, the Georgia of left guard Clint Boling is 34th, left tackle Andrew Whitworth's LSU is 43rd, right tackle Andre Smith's Alabama is 50th, and center Kyle Cook's Michigan State is 51st.

And four of those schools had one of last year's top 25 rushers: Wisconsin's Montee Ball (3), Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell (5), Georgia's Todd Gurley (22) and Alabama's Eddie Lacy (25).

"If I don't see toughness and his ability to be a physical run blocker in college, I almost kind of eliminate them from consideration," says offensive line coach Paul Alexander. "I've told them, 'As a player, I have to respect your toughness. If I don't respect your toughness as a coach, you can't play for me.'

"There are two kinds of blockers. Those that speed up on contact and those that slow down on contact."

There's little doubt where Alexander feels his guys are. Pro Football Focus, a web site that grades NFL players, seems to agree. All five are in the top 22 for run grades at their positions, anchored by Zeitler's No. 2 and Boling's No. 16 at guards, Whitworth's No. 3 and Smith's No. 22 at tackle, and Cook's No. 9 at center as they work into their second full year together.

"They're working and getting better each day. That's what offensive lines do. They get better together," Lewis says.

Boling, in his third season and second as a starter, is a good example of what the Bengals have up there. For a big guy, he's a good athlete, and was recruited to Georgia, in part, for his ability to run the basketball floor and dunk. Plus, he and Whitworth can bang it on the golf course pretty well. Whitworth, who was a junior champion, fires in the 70s while Boling, a relative newcomer, gets it into the 80s. When they're not beat up during the season.

But Boling likes to dish it out, as seen on the power play the Bengals like to pull him.

"There are a couple of reasons to want to run the ball well," Boling says. "It tends to keep yourself out of third-and-long situations when the defense can really call the blitz, call some confusing looks and really try to get after your quarterback. Plus, it keeps your defense off the field.

"I think we all have common goals up front. We want to be as physical as we can be."

Look at the three games the Bengals have won. They've averaged about 33 minutes time of possession. In the games they've lost, about 27 or so. Until they become a half-a-point a minute offense, that is going to be a very big key to Cincinnati's fortunes.

Not only does the line have some lineage, they only have to look across the trench in practice to draw some inspiration from another physical group.

"Our defensive line is one of the best in the league. You can't focus on one guy, they're all so good," Boling says. "That helps through training camp to get a look like that. That plays a big role day after day. They bring so much energy with sacks and things like that. I think we feed off the defense in general with their big plays that turn the momentum.

"And I think they can feed off us with a long, physical drive."

Sunday's matchup looks familiar to Boling. A matchup he knows where much hinges up front.

"Buffalo is a big, physical team on both sides," he says. "They want to run it and they're tough against the run. To me, that's AFC North football right there."

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