Next man up: Injuries lead to more change on Bengals O-line
Published 2:22 am Thursday, January 19, 2023
CINCINNATI (AP) — Right guard Alex Cappa rolled around the Bengals locker room on a scooter on Wednesday. He had his elevated left ankle wrapped tight with white tape.
Left tackle Jonah Williams wore a soft brace on his left leg after dislocating his kneecap last weekend.
Right tackle La’el Collins has been out since he tore the ACL in his left knee in a game on Christmas Eve.
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A Cincinnati offensive line that was so consistent in November and December will have a different look when the Bengals visit the Buffalo Bills for a divisional playoff game Sunday.
The Bengals hope it will be a smooth transition. Protecting quarterback Joe Burrow is critical in Cincinnati’s pass-heavy offense.
Hakeem Adeniji, who struggled in pass protection during the postseason last year, has started at right tackle since Collins went down. Max Scharping, who was claimed off waivers from Houston before the season, has slotted in for Cappa at right guard.
Jackson Carman, who was a starter off and on during his rookie year, has been pushed into service at left tackle.
“This whole year I’ve been working hard on all four (offensive line) positions, and when my number is called, I’m ready to go out there and perform,” said Carman, who played tackle at Clemson but was converted to guard after the Bengals drafted him in the second round in 2021.
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said he’s not overly concerned about the new starters coalescing. It helps that Burrow has become more adept at avoiding the pass rush than last year when he was the most sacked quarterback in the NFL.
“I wouldn’t say it’s overly disruptive,” Callahan said. “I mean those guys still know what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. You are mindful, especially when guys come in off the bench. It’s always a little bit trickier when they do that.”
“We got to find a way to get it done,” he said. “So that’s the nice part of it. It’s win or go home, so the kid gloves are off to some degree. Those guys got to come to play.”
To better protect Burrow, the Bengals committed $74 million to sign Collins, Cappa and center Ted Karras.
Karras and left guard Cordell Volson — a rookie from North Dakota State who won the job in training camp — have stayed healthy.
At least Cincinnati’s offensive line won’t have to contend with Von Miller, who was Buffalo’s top pass-rusher before being sidelined with a season-ending knee injury in November.
Burrow doesn’t seem worried. But the third-year quarterback never seems worried about much.
“All the guys that are playing have played a lot of football for us,” Burrow said. “I think that’s why guys are able to step in and make the plays they do, because everyone has trust in everybody in that locker room to put in the work to get their job done. And so whenever one guy goes down, you throw another guy in. Now the expectation is, there’s not going to be a drop-off and there really hasn’t been at all this year — for any position.”