With Andre Smith missing Tuesday’s practice due to illness, three young players saw increased reps at right guard, with Alex Redmond being the biggest beneficiary.
Redmond, who spent all of 2016 on the practice squad after signing as an undrafted free agent out of UCLA, got the bulk of the work ahead of Trey Hopkins, another 2016 undrafted college free agent and Christian Westerman, last year’s fifth-round pick.
It’s been a quick climb for Redmond, who couldn’t participate in OTAs last year due an NFL rule that prohibits players from participating in those sessions until their class has graduated. It’s the same rule that is keeping this year’s first-round pick, wide receiver John Ross, away from the team until the University of Washington commencement ceremony on June 10.
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“I was behind when I came in last year,” Redmond said. “It was a pain in the ass not being able to be here, but these guys really help you catch up. They make you catch up.
“Just being able to be here now helps a lot,” he added. “I was kind of guessing before, but now when we make a change on a play, I’m here to listen to that. I’m in the room getting all that information. So it just makes it a lot easier, along with knowing what my coach wants from me and believing in his techniques.”
Redmond said the focus on technique has been a welcome eye-opener after his experience at UCLA, where he said there was little instruction and a heavy reliance of sheer athleticism.
“It’s a lot different than college where I just went out there and gave it ol’ good college try,” he said. “Our coaching on a lot of the technique was minimal. It was basically just guessing most of the time. I didn’t know where my running back was going to go in that system we ran.
“It’s a lot more technical now,” he added. “It makes it a lot easier actually.”
And it’s not just the instruction he’s getting from offensive line coach Paul Alexander that has Redmond encouraged.
His teammates on the defensive side of the ball are providing plenty of lessons as well while Redmond handles a lot of the first-team reps with Smith out.
“You’re not going to get too many Geno Atkins when you’re running with the 2s,” he said. “All those guys know what they’re doing, they know their assignments, they know their techniques. They’ve got them perfected for the most part, so I feel like I elevate to my opponent. It feels good.”
It appears the Bengals will go into training camp with Smith as the starter at right guard. But in addition to the fact Smith has never played guard, he’s 30 years old and has a history with injuries. Smith appeared in only four games with Minnesota last year and hasn’t played a full 16 since 2013.
Tuesday was the only practice open to the media, so it’s unclear whether Smith was able to return later in the week. But either eway, there’s an opportunity for guys like Redmond, Hopkins and Westernman – along with T.J. Johnson, who started at left guard for the injured Clint Boling in the 2016 season finale – to use OTAs to position themselves to battle for a job in training camp.
“It’s mostly just cultivating my technique and believing in the system and running it the way the coach wants us to block, having our head in the right positions,” Redmond said. “I’m just trying to do everything that’s asked of him and waiting my time.”