CINCINNATI — Two more offensive linemen left the Cincinnati Bengals last week, bringing the number to three within a month, but head coach Zac Taylor isn’t concerned about an underlying problem within the position group.
Taylor said all three instances were different, beginning with veteran left guard Clint Boling retiring in mid-July because of health concerns.
Kent Perkins, a backup tackle who joined the Bengals as a college free agent in 2017, told the team he was considering retiring and was placed on the waived/left squad list Aug. 13. Then Christian Westerman, who began training camp as a top candidate for the starting left guard spot, was placed on the exempt/left squad list Friday. He returned to the team today.
Bengals color commentator Dave Lapham said on the broadcast of Thursday’s preseason game at Washington that Westerman did not travel for personal reasons and was considering retirement as well.
“All three situations are very much unrelated,” Taylor said Tuesday after practice. “I can’t speak to two of them (Perkins and Westerman). I know Clint had the blood clot issues and had two little kids he was worried about. Those other two were totally separate.”
Perkins played in one game during two seasons with Cincinnati, spending most of that time on the practice squad. He saw action on 47% of the offensive snaps in the preseason opener at Kansas City but was third on the depth chart at right tackle, where Bobby Hart and Andre Smith are expected to get most of the meaningful snaps this year.
Westerman was getting a lot of first-team reps at left guard early in training camp. John Jerry started ahead of him in the preseason opener, and more recently rookie Michael Jordan has been seeing time with the No. 1s.
“It’s big boy time, so this is everybody’s job,” said offensive line coach Jim Turner. “I feel badly about the guys that left. If anybody leaves I feel bad. But… you have to come to work and do your job, so if guys have personal issues and have to step away, then that’s what they have to do to make themselves right. They’re part of the family. Our heart goes out to them. But at the same time we have to figure out the best five to line up against the Seahawks (in the opener Sept. 8).”
The Bengals just can’t seem to catch a break with their offensive linemen. Rookie first-round draft pick Jonah Williams underwent shoulder surgery after an injury popped up with a week left in the offseason workout program.
Boling had been limited to the rehab fields throughout most of the offseason, but his retirement decision came as a surprise. He was entering a contract year and had been the most consistent of Cincinnati’s linemen last year.
The two absences to open camp created some shuffling around. Cordy Glenn had worked out at left guard in the offseason while Boling had been unable to practice but moved back to left tackle where he has played his entire NFL career. The left guard spot has been an ever-changing competition since. Jerry is still in the mix with Jordan, but Trey Hopkins also has gotten looks when not playing center and Billy Price even got some reps there Tuesday in practice. It’s uncertain where Westerman fits in now that he has returned after missing at least five days while away from the team.
More shuffling will be done this week as Glenn self-reported a concussion after last week’s preseason game at Washington. He is unlikely to play Thursday against the New York Giants and most starters will sit the preseason finale next week, so he probably won’t appear again until the regular-season opener.
The movement between Price and Hopkins has been somewhat surprising as well. Price, the team’s 2018 first-round draft pick, missed time early in camp because of a foot injury, and Taylor insists that is why he’s not getting many reps with the first-team offense at center. Hopkins has been in that role as of late, and then Price showed up at left guard Tuesday.
Turner indicated his foot injury has nothing to do with reps in practice or his role change.
“As long as you’re on the field, then you’re playing,” Turner said. “His injury means nothing to him or me. As long as he’s lining up — if he can’t play well, he needs to tell somebody and get out. But it’s not the case with him. He’ll play well.”
When asked if the quest for versatility has anything to do with trying Price at guard, Turner said “absolutely.”
“It's chemistry, too, because you've got Trey in there and they're both good players and they're both similar players,” Turner said. “You look at the best chemistry -- who is the best center, who is the best guard. We want to see what Billy looks like at guard as well and here's where you have time to do it and it's why you play the preseason.”
Turner insists there are no front-runners at either left guard or center, and he could go right up to the season opener before settling on his starting five. Realistically, though, he would like to have a decision by next week sometime.
The Bengals wrap up the preseason schedule Aug. 29 against Indianapolis.
“It's a work in progress, like every position on the team,” Turner said. “It's all about finding the right chemistry. So I think we're headed in the right direction, but I think we've got a long way to go.”