Think back to last month's game in Baltimore when the Bengals offensive line hit the depths. When they return to Maryland to play Washington Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12), their front has suddenly found depth with a brew of intriguing possibilities.
Maybe the most interesting is they've got two good young left tackles playing their first seasons.
The 2019 first-rounder, Jonah Williams, who turned 23 on Tuesday, has been on the bench the last two games with a neck stinger to interrupt what had been an encouraging start.
In his place, 2020 sixth-rounder Hakeem Adeniji, who turns 23 in three weeks but grew up so fast his family calls him 'an oldsie,' has displayed the athleticism and IQ they knew he had but maybe didn't think he'd show so quickly.
Some think his movement over there is comparable to what Andrew Whitworth was doing breaking in or when they were pulling Levi Jones and right tackle Willie Anderson in the run game long before that. They love Williams' athleticism, too, and they believe he has improved with every snap.
Bengals offensive line coach Jim Turner sought both guys avidly in their respective drafts and he hasn't been disappointed. Williams for his Alabama big-stage pedigree and NFL work habits. Adeniji for that mouth-watering movement and F-Stop frame-by-frame football intelligence he used while never missing a start in four seasons at Kansas.
Adeniji's mother could have told them that. Joke Adeniji, a TV anchor in her native Nigeria before she moved to Texas about 30 years ago, thinks her youngest son could eventually follow her into broadcasting after racing to his degree in management and leadership in three years.
"I think he's got a future there," Joke says. "He can talk about the plays and he has the facts to back them up.
"He got his degree in three years and he didn't start a master's because in that last year he wanted to concentrate on football."
Back in the day, she even tried to see if he could help announce the pee wee games in Garland, Texas, but they told her all they were looking for was who carried the ball and if it was a first down.
"He's always been able to do that. Hakeem has always been able to explain things," Joke says. "He's a critical thinker. He will study everything about the (game). The coaching, what they bring to the table. He'll study who is opponent is. After the game he goes back and sees how it played out. The weaknesses and the strengths."
It even goes back to the Garland pee wees, where an opposing coach once told her, "I have to double up on your son. He's so quick," and when a concerned Joke asked Hakeem what could be done about that, he told her, "Momma, I got it figured out. I told my coach and we ran a different play."
One of his coaches at Garland High School told Joke that he wasn't like most players and could explain not only what he was doing, but why.
"We call him 'an oldsie,'" Joke says. "He's like an old man with so much wisdom in what he says. He gets right to the point."
Both her sons have been trained well in the art of communication. Hakeem followed his brother Moshood into the gifted portion of the Garland school curriculum before he followed him on to the football field. Moshood, now a captain in the Air Force where he played on the offensive line during college, would be four years old and Joke would help him practice reading to the class naturally, as if he were reading a script.
That's what she did for nine years at Nigeria's Lagos TV, where she was a versatile presence in front of a national camera. She read the news. She interviewed the who's who of Nigerian society ranging from musicians to politicians. She hosted talk shows, MC'd national weekly high school debates and hosted programs delving into market analysis.
Still, she wanted more than a career and when she came to the United States she started a family. She tried to keep her hand in the business with a show on a Dallas radio station that covered African and Caribbean issues when Moshood was a baby, but the travel to Washington D.C. to cover such events as economic conferences just became too much and she gave it up after a year.
"Do I love broadcasting? Yes. Do I miss it? Yes," Joke said. "But I didn't want that for my kids. I didn't want to juggle things I wanted to focus on them."
Instead, she opened a boutique and the kids with their computers would help with her inventories. She rarely missed a game at Air Force and at Kansas and didn't know what to do with herself when the Bengals opener was closed. But she did make it to Cincinnati two weeks ago for Hakeem's first NFL start against Tennessee and she's looking at the Dec. 27 game in Houston.
"They really don't want me to travel very much and we want to be safe and not sorry," Joke says. "It's hard, but I've been doing what I always do. Before the game I'll text him good luck to him and his teammates with a prayer. And I'll talk to him after just to hear his voice and we'll talk about the game."
There's plenty to talk about these days on the O-line. Now when Turner, assistant line coach Ben Martin, head coach Zac Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan put together their next unit, they've got more than five guys to choose from and have a puzzle to fill if everyone is healthy.
Here's what else has emerged in the last two games on the O-Line besides the young left tackles:
- In less than three weeks the 6-4, 330-pound Quinton Spain, 29, has come out of free agency and established himself as solid, seasoned six-year vet that can help you on a variety of fronts. His number should be 911 instead of 67.
- In a Spain span of two weeks he has played a dominant game at left guard despite having the Bengals playbook for 48 hours and last week came through again when he was shoved into another emergency situation at right tackle when another backup, Fred Johnson, went on the Covid list. Spain made his first NFL start at right tackle, the 67th of his career, and his own against Steelers Pro Bowl rusher T.J. Watt. After a bevy of interior backups played well enough to rush for 118 yards against Tennessee, the starters returned to fend off the Steelers' elite tandem of Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward to no sacks and two hits of quarterback Joe Burrow. Right guard Alex Redmond, 25, may have played the best game of his 22 NFL starts against Tennessee.
- Starting right tackle Bobby Hart (knee), 26, has missed the last two games after the coaches continually graded him highly for his pass pro and intensity. The massive 6-6, 320-pound Johnson, 23, has impressed them when he has replaced both Hart and Williams. So they feel like they've got four solid tackles 26 or younger.
And there are Williams and Adeniji. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams has allowed just one sack and four hits on Burrow in his first seven starts. Adeniji has yet to be charged with a sack and he emerged from last Sunday's tussle with Steelers Pro Bowl rusher Bud Dupree impressively. PFF had him for giving up just one hit and two hurries on 44 passes.
Taylor seems to be waiting for health indicators this week to make his next move. The nice thing is, he's got moves to make. He just hopes he can make them sooner rather than later.
"We have to see where people are coming back. You get good plays from guys who are spot-starting there," Taylor said Monday. "Really if you look at thing in a nutshell and just watch each play those guys up front did a great job (Sunday).
"You want to do it before you go practice on Wednesday so you can communicate to the guys and they can settle into their position, but that was late in the week we had to make some adjustments there. Hakeem and Quinton did a great job of handling it."