Cedric Ogbuehi has a solid supporter in Duke Tobin.
INDIANAPOLIS - Two years ago when the Bengals used their first two draft picks on offensive linemen Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, they were widely praised for planning for the future. Both players had first round grades on Cincinnati's draft board and the expectation was that the team had selected long-term replacements for 30-something starting tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith.
But last year, Ogbuehi had a bumpy ride as Smith's replacement on the right side. He was benched after starting the first 11 games of the season and ProFootballFocus.com rated him 63rd of the 76 tackles that played in at least 25% of their teams' offensive snaps. By the end of the season Ogbuehi was strictly working on the left side where he feels more comfortable and made one start.
It's not what the Bengals were hoping for out of the 21st overall pick in the 2015 draft, but they remain high on Ogbuehi.
"I think Cedric is still a tremendous prospect – I really do," said Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine. "He hasn't had a (healthy) offseason, so it will be good to get him one. The injury thing has been real with him and it has hurt Fish too on the other side. It will be good to get them a full offseason of work and development and maybe at a position to focus on. But I think Cedric is a marvelously talented young man. I think he's made of the right stuff to work at it, and I'm bullish on him and his ability to play. I really am."
Ogbuehi has great athleticism for the position but had trouble at times handing the bull-rush of opposing defensive ends. Tobin says that's not unusual for young offensive lineman.
"The strength and the level of play that he is going against is the biggest jump for an offensive lineman," said Tobin. "They see a lot more undersized speed-rush type guys in the college game. In the pro game you're going to see the same speed but a lot stronger. The strength is something that most college lineman has to build up by the time they're ready to play in our league."
The Bengals hope is that offensive line coach Paul Alexander can help Ogbuehi address his weaknesses with a healthy offseason of OTAs, minicamps, and training camp.
"Everybody employs different techniques, and I think it is incumbent upon us to look at the players that we have and use the techniques that they're able to use and to maximize each player in the way that they can be maximized," said Tobin. "But it's also incumbent on the player to develop the traits to fit in to what we do. It's a two-way street. Does Cedric need strength development? Sure he did. So did Fish. All young tackles do. Does he need technique work? Sure he does. So does Fish. I think Paul will do a great job of getting him up to speed and finding the things that he does well, and finding the things he struggles with and trying to build on those."
Fisher started the final three games at right tackle last season and also struggled at times, but appears likely to be the opening day starter in 2017. Ogbuehi's status could be determined by Whitworth's status. If Whitworth re-signs with the Bengals, Ogbuehi figures to be his backup.
"Whit encompasses everything you want when you pull a guy off a draft board from a scouting perspective," Tobin said. "When you pull the name off the draft board and turn it in, you want him to be Andrew Whitworth ten years from now. On your team…multiple contracts…starter…Pro Bowl player…leader of everybody…and I can throw (Domata) Peko in that mix too. When you're sitting in a film room thinking about how good this guy could be, those guys encompass exactly what you want. Would I be upset if Whit came back? Hell no. The more good players you can have the better."
Starting right guard Kevin Zeitler is also a free agent meaning there could be a new starter on the right side of the line for the second straight year.
"I think we've got some young guys that are looking for the opportunity," said Tobin. "(Christian) Westerman is a guy that's used to playing and played a lot in college. He's also a guy that we didn't get much opportunity for this year so he's going to be coming back kind of as a rookie too. But I don't think the game is too big for him. We have other young guys like (T.J.) Johnson and (Trey) Hopkins. (Alex) Redmond is another guy with great physical traits. So it would be a competition if it's an open spot. And there might be a player to be named later if there's an open spot. We'll see."
The Bengals have selected at least one offensive lineman in each of the last 16 drafts and with 11 picks this year, it appears to be a safe bet that they'll extend that streak. But that won't necessarily be due to the struggles that Ogbuehi and Fisher have experienced in their first two NFL seasons.
"I think the story is still to be written on those guys," said Tobin.
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