The Cincinnati Bengals offensive line will have more eyes on it than any other position group on the team in camp this year. While the unit as a whole took a step forward in 2021 from Zac Taylor’s first two years, it still proved to be woefully inadequate at times. This was seen most of all on the last play of the Super Bowl.
The Bengals offensive line is easily the most revamped unit on the team featuring three new faces. The front office bucked past tendencies by striking early in free agency, bringing in Alex Cappa and Ted Karras on day one of the legal tampering period. They followed that up by signing La’el Collins after a strange and stressful saga for Bengals fans. Barring a late re-signing of Quinton Spain, the team will also have a fourth new starter at left guard, although it remains to be seen who will get the call.
Previewing the Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Line Heading into Training Camp
After missing his entire rookie season and six games in year two, Jonah Williams finally put together a full season of work in 2021. He played 100% of the snaps on offense outside of Week 17, when the Bengals sat most starters.
As of now, Jonah Williams is the only projected starter from the #Bengals Super Bowl appearance expected to start on Week One of 2022.
Their offensive line ranked 29th in PFF pass blocking (53.1) and 20th in PFF run blocking (64.1).
Big year ahead for Joe Burrow & Joe Mixon 🐅 pic.twitter.com/5e9XIcs3Jr
— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) May 21, 2022
Overall, Williams played well. His PFF grade improved from 70.1 to 77.1. His run blocking in particular was noticeably better than 2020. It’s hard to argue he wasn’t the best player on the Bengals’ offensive line. While he may not have reached the tier of elite offensive tackles, he firmly planted himself in the good category. Many offensive tackles fully “break out” in year three, so there is a lot of hope among Bengals fans that Williams can do the same in 2022, his “third” season due to his rookie year being a wash.
The goal for Williams entering the last year of his deal is to show the team he can live up to the potential of a top 10 pick. And that he deserves the contract to go with it. While the team didn’t hesitate to pick up his fifth-year option, it remains to be seen what number they will offer him with other deals on the horizon.
La’el Collins signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Bengals after his release from the Dallas Cowboys. Collins was one of the league’s best right tackles from 2017-2019, before missing the entire 2020 with a hip injury. He then missed five games in 2021 due to violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. However, he still recorded a PFF grade of 82.0, easily better than anyone on the Bengals’ offensive line last season.
The Cowboys opted to release him after failing to find a trade partner. This let them get out of his five-year, $50 million contract signed in 2019. He became expendable mainly due to the emergence of Terence Steele during his suspension. Despite the release, he was a coveted free agent and should slot into the Bengals’ starting right tackle spot.
Collins is currently on the non-football injury list, and the team has only said that he is dealing with back issues. The hope is that this is a minor injury that does not delay his time at camp.
Collins needs to stay healthy and provide the consistency at the position that was lacking after Riley Reiff left midseason with injury. If he can continue his elite play, this could be the most impactful signing for the team.
The first signing of free agency for the team, Cappa opted to jump to the Bengals rather than stick with Brady and the Buccaneers. His four-year, $35 million deal was met with rejoicing by fans. Cappa is not an athletic specimen but brings toughness and reliability.
Cappa has improved every season, finishing with a career-high 72.4 PFF grade in 2021. He easily outperformed any guard the Bengals fielded last season.
Cappa will start camp on the PUP, stemming from an abdominal tear in OTAs, but the team seems unconcerned by his injury. He will hopefully return to full participation before camp ends.
Not long after signing Cappa, the team inked the versatile Ted Karras to a three-year, $18 million deal. The team has been clear – he was signed to start at center. There was some speculation from fans and pundits he may move to left guard, as he has played both positions throughout his career. A lot of this was driven by the potential of adding Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum in the 2022 NFL Draft, but the Baltimore Ravens selected him before the Bengals had a chance. Still, Karras brings the versatility to play anywhere on the interior.
Like Cappa, Karras is not an athletic specimen, but he brings leadership, toughness, and dependability. Bill Belichick had nothing but praise when asked about the impact Karras can have on a team. The Bengals desperately need veteran leadership on the line after sporting a relatively young and inexperienced line in 2021.
Karras will be looked upon to lead the offensive line this season. It will be a tall task with four new starters, including three players new to the team. But Karras; history with both the Patriots and the Miami Dolphins shows this should be no problem for him.
Left guard will be the only spot open for a true competition on the line this camp. Jackson Carman and fourth-round pick Cordell Volson have been identified as the front-runners by the coaches. Perhaps Hakeem Adeniji will also get another crack at the starting job, despite his underwhelming results.
Carman’s rookie year was a massive disappointment. Despite being a second-round pick, there was a lot of pressure on him to lock down a starting spot. Instead, he struggled to win a spot against either Spain or Adeniji and was poorly graded when he did see the field. If he doesn’t have a strong showing at camp, it will be hard to see him as more than another bust. Something all too common with the team’s recent picks on the line.
Volson fits the mold of Frank Pollack’s “glass-eater”. Big, tough, and with a high motor, Volson has the most starts in the history of NDSU.
Offensive Coordinator Brian Callahan has given the edge to Carman ahead of camp, based on experience. But he acknowledges both players will be given a shot and expects a good competition.
One of last year’s fourth-round picks, Smith only saw the field for two games. He impressed coaches during last season’s camp and preseason but suffered a meniscus tear before he was called upon in the regular season. He started Week 17 after returning from injury, along with many other backups.
Fans hope to see Smith take the backup left tackle/swing tackle spot and deliver on the early promise he showed as a rookie in preseason. If either Williams or Collins is unavailable for any amount of time, the young tackle will have all eyes on him. He may also find himself in the mix for left guard.
Isaiah Prince was unexpectedly thrust into a starting role in 2021 due to Riley Reiff’s injury. He struggled mightily at right tackle and drew much ire for his play.
Prince is no lock to retain his position at backup tackle. He should however make the roster as the fourth tackle, with not much competition there. His focus will be on overcoming the mostly negative 2021 season and establishing himself on special teams and in jumbo sets.
With the release of Trey Hopkins, the only other returning center on the roster is last year’s sixth-round pick Trey Hill. Hill saw action on offense in seven games last season, starting three. He struggled in the role, especially with penalties.
Hill will look to leave camp as the primary backup at center. He may face some competition from undrafted free agent Ben Brown, who has drawn early praise from coaches
In addition to the previously mentioned Ben Brown, the Bengals will bring Lamont Gaillard, Desmond Noel, and Devin Cochran to camp. All three, like Brown, were signed as undrafted free agents. It would not be surprising if one or more ended up at least making the practice squad heading into the 2022 season.