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Boling among 3 rookies in Bengals’ starting lineup

CINCINNATI (AP) — Offensive lineman Clint Boling figured he’d get some time to watch and learn before the Cincinnati Bengals actually put him on the field for a game.

The season opener is here, and the rookie is starting.

The fourth-round draft pick will make his first NFL start on Sunday in Cleveland, and he’ll have a lot of inexperienced company alongside him. Three rookies are starting on one of the greenest offenses in franchise history.

“There’s a lot of guys going through it, too,” Boling said Thursday.

Andy Dalton, a second-round pick from TCU, will become the first rookie quarterback to start an opener for the Bengals since Greg Cook in 1969, the team’s second year. First-round pick A.J. Green from Georgia is the top receiver. Tight end Jermaine Gresham and slot receiver Jordan Shipley are starting their second seasons.

Boling gets a chance to start at right guard because Bobbie Williams has been suspended four games for violating the NFL’s ban on performance-enhancing substances.

“It’s just that the opportunity has presented itself,” Boling said. “I’ll go out and play the best I can.”

The Bengals were hoping it wouldn’t come to this.

Coach Marvin Lewis said the team was aware that Williams could be suspended. Cincinnati tried to take care of the problem by signing free agent guard Deuce Lutui agreed to a two-year at the start of training camp, but he showed up overweight and failed his physical.

The Bengals then signed free agent guard Max Jean-Gillis to a one-year deal, but he struggled in preseason games and was released in the final roster cutdown.

Suddenly, the rookie looked pretty good.

“He gets football, he really does,” offensive line coach Paul Alexander said. “If he didn’t have the football acumen that he has, he wouldn’t be the guy.”

The 6-foot-5, 311-pound Boling played every spot on the line except center when he was at Georgia. He started 19 games at right guard, 11 at right tackle and 19 at left tackle, learning the finer points of each position.

The Bengals played him at center and the two guard spots during training camp and preseason, giving him a chance to learn how the inside of their line operates.

“Clint’s a very, very intelligent guy,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “He could recite the offense and everything the first week of camp. You could tell he studied and had put his head in the book and really knew what was going on.”

“He’s one of those guys that knowing what to do and where to be is not going to be the problem. His problem is going to be (that) he’s a rookie.”

He’ll be matched against another rookie — defensive tackle Phil Taylor, the Browns’ first-round draft pick.

“I’m going to have my hands full,” Boling said. “I’m going to do the best I can. This is his first year in the league, just like mine. I’m sure both of us will be excited and have a lot of energy.”

Energy goes only so far. Cincinnati’s young offense will get its first experience with the Dawg Pound on Sunday. The Bengals veterans gave the newcomers advice on how to get through the first week and the first road game.

“You talk to them not necessarily about where they’re going to play, but more so what they’re going to do,” Whitworth said. “In the NFL, it’s different than college football. You’re not going to class all day. You’re not worried about what’s going on activity-wise on campus and then playing a game on Saturday.

“In the NFL, you’d better start on Wednesday and Tuesday getting your mind right on the mission you’re on. So those guys need to understand that’s how it is.”

Given how their schedule breaks, the Bengals’ best chance for some wins comes in the opening months. The first four teams — Cleveland, Denver, San Francisco and Buffalo — were a combined 19-45 last year. Only one of the first eight opponents had a winning record last season — Indianapolis, which is without quarterback Peyton Manning indefinitely following another neck operation on Thursday.

The question is whether they can pull it off with so little experience at such important positions on offense. Alexander compared it to 1996, when they lost their opener at St. Louis 26-16 with a young line.

“Almost the entire line was rookies,” Alexander said, “and it wasn’t pretty.”

Notes: RB Brian Leonard was limited in practice Thursday by a finger injury, the first time he showed up on the injury report. S Taylor Mays missed his second straight practice with a knee injury suffered in the final preseason game. DE Carlos Dunlap (knee) and RB Bernard Scott (hamstring) had full practices. … The Bengals have lost their last three season openers. They’re 7-13 in openers in the last 20 years, when they’ve had only two winning seasons.