CINCINNATI - When linebacker James Harrison signed his two-year deal with Cincinnati on Tuesday, the Bengals had a proven playmaker at one of their main areas for concern heading into the NFL draft Thursday.
Now, about that right tackle ...
Before they pick 21st in the first round, the Bengals want to know if right tackle Andre Smith will re-sign. The unrestricted free agent has been talking to the Bengals about a new deal, but there's been no agreement.
"I am hopeful we can get a solution done there prior to the draft," coach Marvin Lewis said Tuesday. "I know Andre would like to get it done and I think he'd feel better about things so he doesn't get lost without a chair somewhere."
If the Associated Press mock draft is right, the Bengals will pick the top right tackle prospect, mammoth D.J. Fluker (6-5, 339) of Alabama, But other mock drafts see Fluker going sooner. If so, they might grab right tackle Menelik Watson (6-5, 310) of Florida State.
See AP's mock draft in a photo gallery: http://www.wcpo.com/gallery/news/news_photo_gallery/2013-Mock-NFL-Draft---First-Round
Anyone who watched Alabama dismantle a talented Notre Dame defense in the BCS title game knows that the Crimson Tide offensive line was dominant, and much of the credit went to Fluker, a mainstay at right tackle the past two seasons.
Some see Watson, a raw talent who played only one year of FCS football, as a second-rounder; others marvel at his strength and athleticism, say he could play left tackle and think he can be a starter for a decade. Whatever the experts think, they agree that Watson is one of the most unusual stories in the draft.
First, he comes from Manchester, England, and reminds people of boxer Lennox Lewis because of his accent and gold tooth. Secondly, he trained all his life to play basketball and went to Marist College on a hoops scholarship. But he wasn't good enough to play regularly and ended up at a California junior college learning football.
Watson draws comparisons to Baltimore's Michael Oher, whose storyline was the basis for the movie, "The Blind Slide."
At least the Bengals won't have to worry about linebacker with Harrison, a five-time Pro Bowler, moving into one of the outside spots. The rest of the team returns virtually intact, so the Bengals' draft will be more about bringing in players who will add depth for now and grow into starters down the line. The Bengals have gotten to the playoffs as a wild card each of the last two seasons, losing to Houston in the first round both years.
The draft features a lot of solid linemen on both sides of the ball, so even though the defensive line is a strength, they'll look at adding to their rotation there, too. They also could use help at safety and running back.
"I think in general, there's offensive linemen that will end up being good players here in the National Football League," Lewis said. "I think there's defensive linemen that will end up being good players. Maybe a glut of those two groups a little bit more, guys with similar body types and so forth.
"I think there's probably not a consensus of players throughout the 32 teams, maybe after two or three players this year in all positions. I don't know that it's been much like that in many years past."
This draft completes Cincinnati's trade with Oakland for quarterback Carson Palmer. After Palmer threatened to retire rather than play for Cincinnati again, the Bengals dealt him to the Raiders midway through the 2011 season, getting a first-round and a conditional second-round pick for him.
They used the first-round pick last year to take cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who was limited to five games because of a knee injury and a concussion. This year, they get the fifth pick in the second round -- 37th overall -- from Oakland.
They also ended up getting the coach that pushed for the deal in Oakland. Hue Jackson was fired by the Raiders after they failed to make the playoffs in 2011. The Bengals hired him as an assistant special teams and defensive backs coach last season. He moved into the role of running backs coach when Jim Anderson retired in the offseason.
"Hue is excited," Lewis said. "He's looked at it for a couple of years through a different set of eyes, both as a coordinator and as a head coach. He's had an opportunity to look at some guys at the position and is really a valuable resource for me, just as he was a year ago."
See a scouting report on D.J. Fluker: http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/players/1664143
See a scouting report on Menelik Watson: http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/players/1998194