The Bengals began this season with all five offensive line starters returning from last year. However, because of injuries to center Rich Braham and left tackle Levi Jones, the group's only start together so far this season came in Week 1 against the Chiefs.
The Bengals look for versatility when evaluating offensive linemen before the draft, and develop the trait to create depth once draftees are in their system. Bengals offensive linemen are quizzed before each game about the responsibilities of the other four line positions.
As the third string center against the Texans on Oct. 2 last season - Eric Ghiaciuc was inactive that game - left guard Eric Steinbach filled in at center after Braham and backup Larry Moore both suffered injuries.
"When he went in at center, I asked him, 'Well, what can you do and what can't you do?'" Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander said. "He said he could do everything and I said, 'Well, we won't shotgun snap because you've never done it before.'"
Alexander remembers Steinbach's response. "Well, how hard can it be?" the lineman said.
Alexander reminded Steinbach of that after he filled in at left tackle against the Browns this season.
"He did a great job so I said to him, 'Hey, how hard can it be?'" Alexander said. "Some guys can do it. Some guys cannot. Some guys are able just to see it, talk about it and do it. Other guys have to be out there every day and get every snap."
Jones returned to the lineup Sunday in Pittsburgh after missing the Week 2 win against the Browns because of an ankle injury. Steinbach shifted to left tackle with Jones inactive Sept. 17 and rookie Andrew Whitworth started at left guard.
Ghiaciuc was elevated to starting center after Braham suffered a knee injury in the Browns game, and will follow up his second career start during Sunday's win against the Steelers in Pittsburgh with another against the Patriots on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
"(Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's) forte is when you have a young center or a new lineman, to throw the whole book at him," Bengals right tackle Willie Anderson said. "I think Eric played well. He played well enough to get us four touchdowns. And when you can get four touchdowns at Pittsburgh, no matter what anybody says, four touchdowns are four touchdowns."
Amidst the reshuffling up front, the Bengals have averaged 28.3 points in their three wins and rank seventh in the AFC in total offense (321 yards per game).
--WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh has been named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week by the NFL. In his first game action since suffering a heel bruise in the third preseason game, Houshmandzadeh had a game-high nine receptions for 94 yards against the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers, including two clutch touchdown catches. This is the first Player of the Week award for Houshmandzadeh, a sixth-year player. He was the Bengals' seventh-round draft pick in 2001 out of Oregon State. It is the first Player of the Week award for Cincinnati in 2006. The last Bengal to earn AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors was quarterback Carson Palmer in Week 13 of 2004 for his performance.
--C Eric Ghiaciuc will make his third NFL start Sunday against New England in place of injured center Rich Braham.
--LB Rashad Jeanty will make his third NFL start Sunday against the Patriots in place of injured outside linebacker David Pollack, who was placed on injured reserve last week after breaking his neck against the Browns.
--SS Kevin Kaesviharn, who had an interception, forced fumble and seven tackles at Pittsburgh, will make another start Sunday against New England and its strong run game. Dexter Jackson will be out for his second game in a row.
-- QB Carson Palmer has six touchdown passes and four interceptions through three games. After three games in 2005, he had eight touchdown passes and just two interceptions.
-- RB Rudi Johnson's averaged dropped below 4.0 yards a carry, to 3.9 yards a carry on 73 attempts this season, after a tough game Sunday at Pittsburgh.
-- TE Reggie Kelly did not have one pass thrown his way against the Steelers, after catching two of three balls intended for him at Cleveland. The Bengals plan to use Kelly as more of a receiving option throughout the season, though his primary role remains blocking.
-- WR Chad Johnson, who was shut down with one catch at Pittsburgh, could get his big game against New England Sunday because of its small cornerbacks. If the Patriots focus on Johnson, Palmer will go to Chris Henry and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
-- WR Kelley Washington went back to his regular role as blocker and special teams player at Pittsburgh because of the emergence of Houshmandzadeh back in the lineup as the No. 2 receiver. Still, Washington is only helping his value as he heads toward unrestricted free agency in March. He has six receptions for a 14.5-yard average and a touchdown and has been a team-oriented player who has kept his mouth shut.
-- DT Sam Adams was not happy to know the Bengals allowed 170 rushing yards against the Steelers, despite the victory. Adams was signed to help plug the middle of the Bengals' traditionally leaky run defense.
-- LB Ahmad Brooks saw his first action of the season (and of his career) Sunday at Pittsburgh. He had no defensive or special teams statistics, but look for the supplemental draft pick to be active each week in the next month or so, at least. Odell Thurman will not back this season, coach Marvin Lewis said, and David Pollack is out. Fellow rookie linebacker A.J. Nicholson has not played because of a hamstring injury, so Brooks has the opportunity to learn more on the job.