Last month during spring practices the Cincinnati Bengals revealed new head coach Zac Taylor’s vision for the offensive line. It involved starting a rookie at left tackle for the first time since Anthony Muñoz and moving Cordy Glenn to left guard, creating depth the team sorely lacked last season. Those plans will now be scrapped with the news that the Bengals first selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, left tackle Jonah Williams, tore his labrum in minicamp and is out for the season.

What’s next?

The Bengals have already announced Glenn will move back to left tackle. The expected position battle at right guard between free agents John Miller and John Jerry is likely over. Jerry will now compete with incumbent left guard Clint Boling at left guard, provided Boling is available by training camp. He is recovering from an unknown injury that cost him all of the team’s spring practices. Losing Williams is a tremendous blow to what was looking like a promising group to improve upon their performance in 2018.

Impact on the offense

Taylor’s offense is driven by strong offensive line play. The team is expected to run an offense similar to the Los Angeles Rams, relying heavily on the run game and a passing attack predicated on play action. A makeshift line, even one put together this early in the process, hinders the team’s ability to run that style of offense effectively.

The Bengals 2018 offensive line was atrocious, ranked 27th overall by Pro Football Focus. The team now returns the same two offensive line bookends in Glenn and right tackle Bobby Hart. Center Billy Price should continue to develop in his second year, but the depth and the top-rated tackle in this year’s draft are now gone. The injury is particularly troubling because Williams is just one of several Bengals players to miss some or all of their rookie season due to injury.

Fortunately, the Bengals do have second-round pick tight end Drew Sample, who can occasionally assist in the blocking department. He’s a highly-regarded blocker coming out of Washington, but he won’t be enough.

Impact on the future

The player most impacted by the injury could be quarterback Andy Dalton. The Bengals were already predicted to finish 5-11 by Bleacher Report. Weakening the offensive line only moves the team closer to top of the NFL draft order, where a host of quarterback prospects await them in 2020. Whether it’s “Tank for Tua” or “Fail for Fromm,” the fans could end up with a new face to rally around. In addition, the Bengals can easily move on from Dalton financially. His contract runs through 2020, but there’s no cap hit if they release him before then.

There’s no doubt this is a devastating blow to the Bengals. Taylor and his new coaching staff seemed to have momentum going with player buy-in during a solid group of spring practices. Though Williams is expected to make a full recovery, the ramifications of his injury may stretch far beyond 2019. We won’t know for sure until the 2020 NFL Draft, where the Bengals now have a better shot at picking near the top.

 

Travis Yates is a writer for PFN covering the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s also the co-host of the AFC North & Goal Podcast for the PFN Podcast Network. You can follow him @TheTravisYates on Twitter.-