Clint Boling’s Bengals career at left guard started behind a curtain of silence blanketed by the 2011 Lockout.
One day Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander and head coach Marvin Lewis told him they had drafted him in the fourth round. Then Sirius Radio Silence. Per NFL rules he couldn’t talk to them or anyone else on the team for the next three more months until the eve of training camp at Georgetown College.
Eight years later on Monday in front of his Paul Brown Stadium locker, Boling’s career came to an end while a crescendo of praise stretching from Bengals president Mike Brown’s corner office to Duke Tobin’s draft board greeted his retirement at age 30.
Brown called him “a first-rate person.” Tobin, the Bengals director of player personnel, said he “epitomizes everything a scout hopes for when they draft a player. He’s been a rock and stabilizing force for eight seasons.” New head coach Zac Taylor, who Xed and Oed for the Rams the past two seasons with Boling confidant Andrew Whitworth at left tackle, said the two men that anchored the Bengals’ left side for so long, “both have those leadership qualities you look for. They really lead by example, guys that young players can look up to and mold their technique and the way they approach the game, study the game.”
As usual, the spare-speaking Boling had little to add. Except that his decision to retire is based purely on a medical condition that developed shortly after season in the form of a potential pulmonary embolism stemming from a blood clot in his right leg and that if his son ever wants to play football he’d be all for it if the age is right.
That is, if he has a son. He joked he’d like to have another child and he could go for the girl sweep to join 20-month-old Emma and five-month-old Avery, the two major reasons for Monday’s decision.
“I’m expecting this fall to chase some kids around. Well, one of them isn’t really mobile yet,” Boling said. “It’s about my family. It’s the most important thing in my life right now … (The condition) is not something to take on.”
All of which is no surprise to Whitworth, the Rams left tackle and Boling’s tag-team partner on the left side of the Bengals’ line for five seasons, four playoffs and two AFC North titles. At 37 and no looming threatening medical complications, even Whitworth’s decision to keep playing has been shortened to a year-to-year review for the last several offseasons.
“It has to be at this point with so many years in the league,” Whitworth said Monday. “He did what he thought was best for his family and for him. It seems like it’s the right decision. I’m proud of him just because he’s had a heck of a career.”
There’s plenty of time to put the offensive line under the microscope. And study how for the second time in less than a month it has received grim news on the left side. How Boling’s announcement comes on top of starting rookie left tackle Jonah Williams’ season-ending torn labrum and how the leading candidates to be the first Opening Day left guard not Boling since 2011 are two guys with two NFL starts each at left guard in Trey Hopkins and Christian Westerman and a guy that didn’t play last season in nine-year vet John Jerry.
Plenty of time. Plenty of time to consider the observation of Bengals offensive line icon Dave Lapham (who’ll always remain 29 games ahead of Boling on the games played list) that finding the left guard won’t be as hard as finding the back-up left tackle spot that Boling filled so well the last couple of seasons.
Plenty of time for all that. Monday was all about Boling, a fourth-round pick who came off the board from Georgia in that re-boot season of 2011 and quietly did what solid fourth-round picks are supposed to and became part of the core headed by Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, Boling’s college teammate, which was able to immediately mothball the Carson-Chad Era. From 2012-15, Boling helped backbone the Bengals’ front to 43 victories and he went on to start 109 times in 111 games, eighth among Bengals’ interior offensive linemen.
When Boling missed the last four games of 2013 with a torn ACL, he stayed through one of Cincinnati’s coldest winters to rehab himself back into the opener and didn’t miss a game for the next two seasons. In the last two seasons injuries forced him out to left tackle for the last two games in each of the last two seasons and in 2017 he famously offered up the fourth-and-12 last stand in Baltimore while preventing soon Hall-of-Famer Terrell Suggs to get to Dalton on the winning 49-yard TD pass with 44 seconds left.
“Impressive when you look at how he moved around in different spots,” Whitworth said. “We knew when he got here he was going to be a kid that would help us just because he was so cerebral, he understood the game, understood what needed to be done. He was one of those guys that you thought was unflappable. He never seemed to have too much emotion in the game or over react to anything. He made sure he got the job done and he helped all of us.
“Any win in the league is not a given. You have to earn it every week. There had to be a lot of good pieces to have the success we had regardless of what happened in the post season. We were a really good team and just playing side by side with a guy like that was awesome.”
Boling, who played every game last season for the fifth time, figures his injury stems from 2018. His leg, he says, took some shots. But there are no regrets about retirement. He’ll miss the games, yes. He thinks back to the duel, for instance, with Suggs.
“Being in a different spot at the end of games where things are hard, everything is against you and you’re able to succeed and win the game,” Boling said after making plans for director of operations Jeff Brickner to ship him more tangible memories, like his helmet and shoulder pads, home to Atlanta.
But what he’ll really miss is where he was standing Monday. In front of his locker, bonding with linemates, scolding a reporter for his golf game, shooting the breeze with the man that replaced him at left tackle at Georgia and is again the No. 1 left tackle, Cordy Glenn. But all Boling could do Monday since he was the only player around was upbraid the reporter, but he also offered a standing invite to his course back home.
“Being in the locker room. Right here,” said Boling when asked what he’ll miss most. “Pre practice. Post practice. The guys joking around having a good time. Your friends. The hanging out at lunch. Hearing what guys have come from, what their particular stores are. How they got here. It’s a unique atmosphere when you have 53 guys from across the country and you build a team together. It’s something that’s a lot of fun.”
A look back at some of the best images in Clint Boling's career with the Bengals.
Kelly Boling, his wife for half of this run, listened to her husband’s answers to Monday’s media with a sad smile. She’s happy she and the girls have him all to themselves. They both majored in insurance and risk management at Georgia, but she’s not sure that’s what he’ll do next except they’ll now be able to take in some games in Athens and that he’ll spend the fall networking. She envisions a basement in their new house with his memorabilia, but she doesn’t even if know if the girls are going to care. But their parents will.
“I loved watching him play,” Kelly Boling said. “I know he’s still going to be watching all the games. That’s all they seem to do.”
It certainly sounds like he’ll be watching these guys. Even Boling had to catch himself Monday. He would have been playing for his third line coach in three years and third play-caller in four seasons and even though he faced such a foreboding diagnosis and decision, he was in the meetings impressed with what Taylor has brought to the table.
“If I was able to make that decision and talk myself into playing, I wanted to be ready,” Boling said. “To have this much of a change through the spring and to learn some new things, it was fun to watch. It’s a very unique offense. You don’t see a lot of the crossing jet motions and the play action and everything marries up really well. The runs, the play action, the screens, the shot plays. Everything really coincides and looks the same. To have an offense be able to do so many different things, it’s going to be an exciting team to watch.”
After 109 games where ever he was asked to start, Boling is ready to watch after refusing to be locked out.
“I never would have thought,” Boling said on his way out the door, “I would have played eight years, to be honest with you guys.”