Bengals aim to shore up offensive, defensive lines

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Cincinnati Bengals made clear one of their main goals this offseason is to build the line of scrimmages on both sides of the ball, but the interior defensive line especially needs addressed after the struggles stopping the run last year.

And with DJ Reader’s future uncertain as he heads into free agency rehabbing a surgically repaired quadriceps tear, there could be an even bigger hole to fill. The Bengals gave up 126.2 rushing yards per game, and depth on the defensive line was an issue.

With free agency approaching next week, Cincinnati will be looking hard at a number of options.

“We want to build the line of scrimmages,” Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin said last week at the NFL Combine when asked specifically about the needs on the interior defensive line. “That’s a part of line of scrimmage — maybe the most important part of the line of scrimmages is being able to hold up against the run. We play in a physical division. Teams are going to run the ball at us. We need guys in there that can play the run and we need somebody that can affect the passer. It is a position we are looking at, it’s a position of need, it’s always a position of need. I don’t know that I would ever stand up here and say D-line is not position of need and offensive line is not a position of need. They are always going to be a position of need. It’s just a matter of being the right guy at the right time.”

Reader’s injury in December only put more emphasis on that.

The 29-year-old missed the last three games and still has a long recovery ahead, but Reader said in January he felt good about his ability to come back, like he did when he suffered the same injury on his other leg in 2020. The Bengals and any team considering signing him will have to consider his past (he also missed six games in 2022 because of a knee injury) and weigh it against what he brings plugging holes in the trenches when healthy.

“It’s a shame he got hurt,” Tobin said. “He is a big piece of our defense. He’s a big piece of our leadership core, a big piece of what made us a really good defense in past years. He kind of keeps the whole unit together. So yeah, are we talking to him? We are talking to him. He’s in the building every day, rehabbing, trying to get himself in position to have another successful season. He’s been through this injury before on the other side, so we think he’s going to get through it and be just fine. But we’re talking to him like we are a lot of our UFAs and seeing if there’s an opportunity to get ‘em signed back.”

The Bengals also will be looking at the draft pool, which brings some intriguing prospects, but coach Zac Taylor said consistency is a main trait they are looking at from those players.

“You can see that from the guys that we have in our building,” Taylor said. “That’s what I think has carried us from the defensive linemen is the consistency. You know what you’re going to get down in and down out in every single game from our guys, and so, those are always things we’re looking to add. In the draft it’s guys who can fit right in with the guys that have been here and done that and are going to lead these young guys. I think it’s critical that we find consistency at that position behind the key guys we already have.”

Offensively, the right tackle position will be a need, as the Bengals could be looking at another new starter there for a fourth straight year. Jonah Williams, who switched from left tackle to replace La’el Collins in 2023, is set to become a free agent and is expected to move on with opportunities for a bigger paycheck likely to come elsewhere.

Collins didn’t even last a full season after he was brought in with much fanfare in 2022. Back injuries gave him a slow start with Cincinnati and then he tore his ACL that December. Riley Rieff’s one season in 2021 was cut short by injury as well after he was signed to replace multi-year starter Bobby Hart.

“We would like to have somebody man the right tackle spot for a number of years, yes,” Tobin said. “We’d like it to be a young guy that can come in and do that or a veteran that might have the opportunity to rebuild his career or something. We would like that to be manned on multiple fronts. But we’ve considered having it manned well enough to provide us a chance to win next year. That’s the No. 1 thing. So whether that’s a rookie on a four-year deal or a veteran on a 1-year deal, we’re open to anything there.”

Cincinnati has rebuilt the offensive line through free agency over the past two offseasons, while also filling the left guard spot through the drafting of Cordell Volsen in 2022. Tobin said it’s always a challenge trying to find the right five pieces together, but the Bengals want to keep improving the unit.

The offensive tackle pool in this year’s draft class is considered a pretty deep one, and there are options that bring various different tools that could be helpful to any NFL team. Taylor didn’t want to describe the measurables he

“They’re a good group this year,” Tobin said. “A lot of guys, a lot of different guys from different programs. Guys who have played the left side, the right side, guys that have played both. Guys who are really good run blockers, guys who are really good pass blockers and that is exciting to see. Probably one of the deeper offensive tackle groups I’ve seen in the early parts of the draft and early rounds and that’s good. They’ll be doubled up, doesn’t mean any of them are going to last, maybe they’ll be the first picks in the draft, I don’t know but there are a large number of them and that’s good.”

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