With newcomers in the mix, ‘competition all over the place’ for Bengals offensive line

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) runs out of the tackle of Tennessee Titans' Jadeveon Clowney (99) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) runs out of the tackle of Tennessee Titans' Jadeveon Clowney (99) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Credit: Bryan Woolston

Credit: Bryan Woolston

Quinton Spain walked into the stadium on a Friday to sign with the Cincinnati Bengals and played the majority of the snaps at left guard two days later. That’s how bad of a need there was.

The former Buffalo Bills offensive lineman helped the Bengals to a win over the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 1 when four starters needed replaced from the previous game, and now after some rest and recovery time with the bye last week, there is some actual competition on the offensive line.

Cincinnati heads into an AFC North rivalry game Sunday at Pittsburgh still not back to full strength but helped by at least three guys potentially returning to availability up front. Right guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, who has been out since the opener with an ankle injury, was cleared to practice Wednesday, and left guard Michael Jordan and center Trey Hopkins are both “good to go” after missing the last game because of illness and concussion, respectively.

New interior lineman B.J. Finney also is in the mix after arriving in a trade with Seattle on Oct. 28.

“There is competition all over the place,” Hopkins said of the offensive line unit after seeing backups play a role in such a big win. “There always is, and it’s good. It lets us know that we have people that can play any position. And we are still down guys on the offensive line, so we still have guys stepping up. It’s great. People have full-game experiences under their belt now against a good defense and a good team. They showed that they can play, they can win and hold their own.”

Right tackle Bobby Hart (knee) remains out, left tackle Jonah Williams (stinger) was limited Thursday but continues improving, according to Taylor, and backup tackle Fred Johnson remains on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Also missing on offense is running back Joe Mixon, who is doubtful with a foot injury.

Taylor said he has confidence in rookie Hakeem Adeniji, who started at left tackle two weeks ago, if he is needed to step in again, and there are others that have practiced at tackle as well. Spain said he played the position in college and can play anywhere but center.

As more players come back into the fold, Taylor likes having more options but would like more continuity, which was something the offensive line began to develop before the Week 8 changes became necessary.

“You always want those guys to play next to each other, because there are some verbal and some non-verbal stuff they feel from one another, but we’ve got a lot of guys who have been in this program for a long time now,” Taylor said. “They understand the expectations and they’ve gotten enough reps to where we don’t feel cautious throwing things at them. They’re prepared to play if they need to.”

Spain is still trying to get to know the players around him, as he only had a couple walkthroughs with the team before the Week 8 game against the Titans and then limited practices last week before the bye. His first full padded practice was Wednesday.

The sixth-year player said he wasn’t expecting to even play his first game so quickly after signing Oct. 30 but two weeks later, he’s more comfortable. Spain started 50 games in four years with Tennessee to begin his career before moving on to Buffalo, where he earned the starting left guard job for the entire 2019 season. He was released after starting one of four games with the Bills this season, and he had to wait five days upon arriving in Cincinnati to even enter the stadium because of COVID-19 protocols.

“I just had to learn on the fly,” Spain said. "I was thinking like, ‘I’m not playing, they’re going to give me time.’ I just got the phone call. And then I said, ‘It’s go time.’ It went second nature.

“Once I knew what we had to do, which way to go… Like, I’ve been in the league six years,” he added. “I know every defensive front and who to block on certain plays. I just need to know which way the run is going, which way the pass is going, and we’re straight.”

Spain has played Pittsburgh twice in his career, including in Week 14 last year with Buffalo, but knowledge of the Steelers defense only helps so much. Pittsburgh is known for its from seven and heavy blitzes, which all starts with outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree.

Defensive ends Stephon Tuitt (six sacks) and Cameron Heyward (two sacks) anchor the defensive line.

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Steelers, 4:25 p.m., Fox, 1290, 95.7