Bengals training camp preview: Center

The Bengals open their 2013 training camp July 25 at Paul Brown Stadium. The team has made the playoffs each of the last two seasons but each time it has been a short-lived trip to Houston for a disappointing end in an AFC wild card game.

The roster is in a solid state and there is no reason to think this team can’t again make another push for the postseason but the expectations are for more than another first-round appearance.

Fox Sports Ohio will take a look at some position battles and areas of interest for the Bengals leading up to training camp with an eye on how things could play out and what it means for the season to come.

Today: Who’s snapping the ball?

Two years ago the Bengals extended Kyle Cook’s contract by four seasons. It was a move that showed the same kind of confidence in the former practice squad member’s playing ability and presence in the locker room that the franchise showed to former draft picks Leon Hall, Andrew Whitworth and Domata Peko.

Cook went down last preseason with an ankle injury that required surgery and kept him out of the lineup the first 12 games of the season. It was a blow to the offense. Cook helped make Andy Dalton’s rookie season an easier transition than can often be the case for a first-year starter. Without Cook available, the Bengals had to sign Jeff Faine off the street while rookie free agent Trevor Robinson backed him up.

Faine started the first seven games but got injured himself, opening the door for Robinson. The rookie from Notre Dame acquitted himself well in seven starts before Cook regained the No. 1 spot in Week 16 at Pittsburgh.

This preseason the job again belongs to Cook, as it should, but Robinson will push him as well as get reps at guard. This position battle will be particularly important with all three AFC North rivals – Cleveland, Baltimore and Pittsburgh – using the 3-4 as their base defense and having some manifestation of a nose tackle playing directly over the center.

“I think he’s done well,” said head coach Marvin Lewis of Cook after last month’s minicamp. “We have good competition there and I think he feels that, and I think that’s good but mentally there is no one sharper than him. He’s had a chance now to let the ankle to totally heal.”

Cook (6-3, 310) and Robinson (6-5, 300) have the combination of size, quickness and strength that line coach Paul Alexander likes. Cook answered questions about the health and strength of his ankle by playing in the final four regular season games plus the playoff at Houston.

What’s left to answer is the play on the practice field and in the preseason games. Robinson made this a competition by his play last season. He played in more than 450 snaps, including all during a crucial four-game win streak in the second half of the season that helped propel the Bengals to the postseason.

Alexander trusts both players but it was evident how much Cook means to this team that his first start of last season came at Pittsburgh when the Bengals needed a win to clinch a playoff berth. When push comes to shove, Cook should win out this battle. Regardless, the Bengals are in better position at center than they were a season ago.