College football players invited to this week's NFL scouting combine won't begin hitting the field until Friday at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium, but anticipation already is building for the first of four straight days of on-field workouts including timing, stations and skill drills.
The first groups hitting the field will be special team players and offensive linemen including tight ends, so the Bengals' interests will be piqued immediately.
Among the prospects the Bengals will be following include top-tier tackles La'el Collins, who would continue the LSU pipeline to Cincinnati, Stanford tackle Andrus Peat, whose father, Todd Peat, played for the Rams and Raiders, and Iowa’s Brandon Scherff. Much to the Bengals' delight, Peat also can play special teams, including defending field goals as a blocking threat.
There's also Florida State's Cameron Erving, Oregon's Jake Fisher, Texans A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi and Daryl Williams of Oklahoma. Miami’s Ereck Flowers and Penn State’s Donovan Smith are tackles who can play guard. It's thought that the Bengals are specifically targeting a backup swing tackle who can plug-and-play at guard and eventually take over for Andrew Whitworth on the left side.
With the possibility that the Bengals believe there is no immediate need at tackle together with the perception that an elite pure tackle isn't in this draft, they could opt for intriguing later-round tackle projects such as Pitt's T.J. Clemmings, who switched from defense two years ago, and Florida underclassman D.J. Humphries, who would need to get bigger, but may have time.
Special-teamers, offensive linemen and tight ends arrived in Indianapolis Tuesday. The Bengals could use help in all three areas, but then again they may not. Each area has the potential to be in a state of flux beginning March 1. Whether or not the Bengals need to address special-teamers, offensive linemen and tight ends can be debated with compelling reasons behind both arguments.
Kicker Mike Nugent is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March, but don't expect the Bengals to draft a kicker. Nugent likely will be re-signed.
The top two tackles, Whitworth and Andre Smith, are entering the final years of their contracts, but the Bengals may not feel compelled to grab an upper tier replacement tackle just yet, especially in a year when many experts believe that there are no elite pure tackles or so-called "dancing bears" in the draft.
Though Whitworth will be 34 this year, he showed no signs of slowing down last season while not allowing a sack and remaining one of the best players on the team. Smith, though injury-prone, is still just 28 and remains prized for his abilities. The team has believed in him under worse situations.
Left guard Clint Boling is slated to become an unrestricted free agent, but he's expected to re-sign, sealing up both starting guard positions.
One thing is for certain, it would appear that center is the only position on the offensive line that doesn't need immediate addressing due to impending or potential change. Russell Bodine had a promising rookie season in 2014 and T.J. Johnson was drafted the year before.
The Bengals have never taken a center in three consecutive drafts. The past two marked just the second time that they took a center back-to-back years. The other occasion was in 1983 with Dave Rimington and 1984 with Bruce Kozerski.