Improved offensive line play crucial to Burrow’s transition to NFL

Cincinnati Bengals' Sam Hubbard, left, rushes against Bobby Hart, right, during NFL football camp in Cincinnati, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Bengals OL ranked 30th of 32 teams in the NFL last season

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow already is planning the Christmas gifts he will be giving the offensive linemen this year.

The rookie No. 1 overall draft pick knows how important his offensive line will be in his transition to the NFL, and Burrow wants those players lining up in front of him to know how much he values them.

“Those guys have to be my best friends,” Burrow said. “I have to make them happy so they fight for me, and that’s something I’ve always tried to do. They are going to have some nice Christmas presents this year, so I hope they are looking forward to that, and I’m looking forward to working with them.”

So far in the first padded practices this week, the offensive line is still proving to be a work in progress. The Bengals had one of the worst offensive lines in the league in 2019 but are hoping the addition of left tackle Jonah Williams and right guard Xavier Su’a-Filo will provide more consistency.

ProFootballFocus.com ranked Cincinnati’s line 30th among the 32 teams at the end of the 2019 regular-season, and none of the Bengals linemen who played 500 snaps ranked in the top 50 percent at their positions. Center Trey Hopkins (62.8) was the best of the bunch, followed by right tackle Bobby Hart (57.7), now departed right guard John Miller (58.6), left guard Michael Jordan (43.1) and backup guard/center Billy Price (41.8).

Burrow on the first day of pads Tuesday seemed to feel the effects of an offensive line that has still much to prove. He found himself having to scramble out of trouble and likely would have been sacked several times if the defensive line was allowed to.

The unit did better in protection during the first “scrimmage” Friday but also had four false starts.

“Guys just have to get dialed in,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “First time we’re really full go. There’s more at stake than there has been. It’s really meant to replace a pre-season game for us and this stuff usually happens in the first pre-season game. We have to be on top of it.”

Improvement on the offensive line will have to come from Williams and Su’a-Filo proving to be upgrades, and Year 2 development from Jordan. Hart still remains with the first-team offense at right tackle but perhaps the expected competition from Fred Johnson will push him to more consistency this year as well.

“I just think it’s untapped (potential) and we have to find it,” Su’a-Filo said. “There’s a lot of guys like Mike coming into the second year, there’s a lot of big jumps first to second year, and I’m sure he can speak on that, but just for me, coming in as a veteran to kind of really help this group, and having guys like Trey (Hopkins), Bobby (Hart) has played a lot of football, to just kind of have that experience. For me, I think we can go as far as we want. We’ve just got to work and we’ve got to be willing to do it as a unit.”

Su’a-Filo replaces Miller and brings a veteran presence to the guard spot.

Williams, the team’s 2019 first-round pick, showed promise in Friday’s informal scrimmage while engaging in some competitive 1-on-1 battles with Carl Lawson and holding his own. He missed all of his rookie season after undergoing shoulder surgery last summer, and Cincinnati ended up using a third- and fourth-string left tackle for most of the year while now-departed Cordy Glenn missed significant time as well.

“He’s dialed in,” coach Zac Taylor said of Williams. “He’s certainly been a great asset for us so far in this training camp. Those are the expectations we had for him. He’s getting a lot of good work in against some really good rushers and guys who are good run defenders. It’s a good test for him every day. He’s responded to the challenges and I’m really encouraged by him.”

Jordan looks to build off improvement late in 2019. He opened the season as the starter at left guard but struggled and went to the bench for a few games. By the final month, he had caught on to concepts offensive line coach Jim Turner was teaching and feeling more comfortable in the system.

Now he is stronger – up to 320 pounds – and feeling more confident in Year 2.

“The most important thing I Iearned from last year was being a professional at all times. Giving 110 percent of my effort in every single thing. Whether it’s a drill or whether it’s a walkthrough. Whatever the case may be. You have to get something out of it. Or whether it’s taking care of your body. Just being a pro at all times of the game.”

Jordan says he already can sense a difference in this group compared to last year. Time will tell if it’s enough.

“I feel like we’re electric,” Jordan said. “Having veteran guys like Xavier come in, he’s been really helpful improving my game. I try to learn as much as possible from him and all the older guys in the room. Like Bobby Hart, Trey Hopkins, Billy Price. Having those guys help with those other guys does a whole lot for our team.”

In Other News