MOBILE, Ala. - There are a slew of interesting offensive linemen here at the Senior Bowl this week (Willie Anderson likes South Carolina State tackle Alex Taylor and Dave Lapham thinks St. John's guard Ben Bartch is intriguing). Duke Tobin, the Bengals director of player personnel, is going to watch them all.
But he also likes the tackles who were prospects a year ago at this time and arrived in Cincinnati during this past season via the draft (first-rounder Jonah Williams), undrafted free agency (O'Shea Dugas) and the waiver wire (Fred Johnson and Isaiah Prince). Williams gets the shot at left tackle and look for Johnson to be groomed as the swing tackle or maybe even more. They'll get snaps in the spring and summer.
"There's going to be a lot of competition in that room. We've got some young tackles we brought in throughout the course of the season who have started to show some things, some traits. Those guys are going to be in the mix," Tobin said. "Jonah has to come in and earn the spot like anybody else has to. We'd like to believe that he can take it over and be a long-term solution there. If there is somebody else who earns it we'd like to believe he could fit somewhere else. We are going to get the five best guys on there.
"It's hard when you are moving new guys in and out from different positions. Hopefully we will be able to get guys to stay a little healthier up front and I think that will dramatically improve. As the year went on and our guys started to get more comfortable with each other, guys sort of solidified some of the things we were doing, the results improved. That's what I wanted to see and everyone wanted to see. We started being able to run the ball a little bit more effectively and that started to open up other things for you … We are going to rep Fred. We are going to rep the young Ohio State kid (Prince). We are going to have competition added. There will be some additions that come in throughout the offseason and it will be healthy for us. How is it going to be on Week One, I can't answer that right now. "
- Tobin knows exactly what the by-product of putting a winning team back on the field is.
"We'd like to sell more tickets," he said. "You need to win to make that happen. We didn't win and that's just the results of a poor season or multiple poor seasons. That's life in the NFL, especially in a market like Cincinnati. We've got great fans that want to support us but we have to give them something to come out and support. Our focus is to win and if you win the rest of that takes care of itself. Did we sell as many tickets as I wanted? No."
And he thinks they can do it with franchise wide receiver A.J. Green and that core of veterans the pundits called to trade during last season.
Tobin says Green has gas left. He turns 32 the week training camp starts and a week that marks the 28th month since he's played in a game.
Tobin agrees. It would be weird to see Green in a uniform other than stripes.
"Yeah, and that's not the plan," said Tobin, who says Green is going to be back this season whether there's a long-team deal or not even though Green has said he won't report this spring if he has the franchise tag.
"He hasn't talked to me about any of that stuff, so it's hard for me to answer those questions. He was hurt last year, and our season went bad," Tobin said. "That's what happened last year. A.J. Green has been phenomenal for us. The way that he's handled himself from the day he walked in the door to the day he walked out last season. He's been fantastic. Our dealings with him have been excellent. He's handled himself in a truly professional and wonderful way. He's been great for our football team."
He's standing by Green's veteran core that includes defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. They are not for sale.
"We are not trying to get better by losing our best players. In our opinion, that's not the path forward," Tobin said. "Lose your best players, how do you get better by doing that? We have guys who clearly some teams were interested in. Well guess what? We are interested in having them, too. They are good players. We weren't good enough as a football team. Now if we're going to lose players, how does that improve us? I don't think any of those (veterans) are done. We think all those guys have life in their NFL career and are going to be a part of our turnaround as we go."
- Willie Anderson, the greatest right tackle in Bengals history, returned to his hometown Wednesday to visit his old team. Although there are no coaches left from his dominating 12-season run from 1996-2007, he hooked up with Tobin and was hoping to get a chance to say hello to Bengals president Mike Brown and family.
"All that's left are the personnel people," said Anderson, who was already an offensive line guru when he played and remains so on Twitter and in the gym with the Willie Anderson Academy.
On the sidelines Wednesday he hooked up with Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, who called all of Anderson's 181 games in stripes and they started comparing notes. He also ran into former Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander, his line coach for all those games, while he was doing work for Sirius NFL Radio.
Lapham talked about how Anderson was one of those rare lineman who could see the entire picture while on the field. Anderson regaled with a story how he destroyed end-tackle stunts by deploying the monstrous blocks of right guard Bobbie Williams while he coaxed the young tandem of left tackle Levi Jones and left guard Eric Steinbach to be alert.
How did it work in 2004-05? Rudi Johnson set the Bengals single-season rushing record twice while Chad Johnson and Carson Palmer set the franchise bests for receiving and passing, respectively.
Anderson prefers to work with high school players, but he's got a keen eye for the kids trying to get into the league down here and he's looking at the gigantic Taylor.
"(Looking at) one-on-one pass blocks, the run periods, the South Carolina State kid is pretty impressive, 6-8, 6-9," Anderson said. "The big thing is can he just stay on bull rushes. He's a long, tall guy who showed good power skills in the run game. He's a tough guy, he can get great leverage. His pass pro is really pretty good."
It looks like Taylor is going to be improving his stock, which before this week Walter Football had in the rounds three to five range. But with Tobin so high on the Bengals' young tackles, he'd have to clearly be the highest graded player on the board when the Bengals were looking at him and other tackles.