Winston returns in back-up role to steady line

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Eric Winston (73) offers a steady hand.

With the Bengals offensive line looking to regain its footing after losing two starters on Thursday, the club reached out to an old hand Friday and re-signed backup right tackle Eric Winston for another year.

The loss of Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth and starting right guard Kevin Zeitler leaves the Bengals with a projected 148 NFL starts among the five spots and that includes a combined four at left tackle, right tackle and right guard. Winston, who has been a backup in Cincinnati since he arrived late in the 2014 play-off run, made two of his 125 NFL starts last season.

Last season Winston also rotated during games at right tackle with both Whitworth's projected replacement, Cedric Ogbuehi, and this year's projected starting right tackle, Jake Fisher, so he's mentored both.

"Whit's a legendary Bengal. He'll always be a legendary Bengal," Winston said. "He leaves a big hole. I and everyone have to make up for it. I'm going to do what I've always done. Try to set the pace, help out these guys, and anyone who else comes in from the draft or free agency. Try to be a steady voice with steady play."

Winston, 33, heading into his 11th NFL season, had been talking to the Bengals about returning before Thursday. He laughed when told he must not think the situation is 'a lost cause.'

"I don't think I would have come back if I thought it was a lost cause," Winston said. "We have talent on this team. Last year I felt like we didn't quite figure out how to win the close games and the year before we did. That will be a big thing coming into this season and a big focus. How to win the tight games and execute the game situations."

There has been some talk with the line not as strong but more athletic that the Bengals may have to adjust their blocking scheme. Winston is waiting to see what happens.

"One thing I know is nothing in the NFL stays the same," Winston said. "There's a new look this year. Whit and Kevin are fantastic players. The market showed that. Now we're going to have to re-group. Once we get to the OTAs and start practicing, Ced, Fish, me, whoever the right guard is, maybe we'll do things that have different strengths than we had last year."

Just last week Winston offered his advice to Fisher and Ogbuehi at the NFL scouting combine.

"I think the toughest thing for a pro to do is for them to look at (himself) critically," Winston said. "'What do I need to do to do better?' I think guys that do that stay around a long time and guys that don't fall by the way side. "Those guys have all the athleticism in the world. They have the strength you need to play. They just have to go out and do it. I think now that they've had some reps they can take a step back in the offseason and they can say, 'That's what I need to do,' And they can do it."

Winston, doubling as the NFL Players Association president, still enjoys it all and has spurned retirement again.

"I've always said if I'm upset about coming in on Wednesday and Thursday I'll hang them up," Winston said. "But I still enjoy coming in. I still enjoy game planning, I still enjoy watching film, I still enjoy helping other guys. I've trained for it my whole life and I'll keep doing it while it's fun."

Winston has known Whitworth since high school and they were close before Winston came to Cincinnati through the NFLPA when Whitworth was the Bengals' rep. So Thursday was hard.

"If anyone thinks it was easy for him to leave Cincinnati, they don't know Andrew Whitworth very well. He's as loyal as it gets," Winston said of the call to take the Rams' three-year, $13 million guarantee. "He had to do what he felt was right. His legacy as a Cincinnati Bengal is etched in stone and it shouldn't be forgotten."

 

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