Bengals need to upgrade up front

The Bengals plan to get better on the offensive line, but when will they see the fruits of their labor?

The only position where there aren’t any questions is left tackle, where Andrew Whitworth gave up only two sacks last year and narrowly missed out on a Pro-Bowl berth. Two starters on the line are restricted free agents and another is entering the final year of his contract.

The situation is really bad at guard. Bobbie Williams, who has been the starter at right guard since arriving from Philadelphia in 2004, is 34 and entering the final year of his contract. Nate Livings, who has started 31 games at left guard the last two years, is a restricted free agent. According to Pro Football Focus, Livings rated as one of the worst in the league among starters.

Evan Mathis, who started five games in 2009, is an unrestricted free agent and is likely to move on to another team.

There were some discussions last year about moving right tackle Andre Smith, who has seen action in only 14 games the past two seasons, to guard but new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden’s West Coast scheme wouldn’t be a good fit.

“You would hope your guards to be a little bit more mobile and Andre’s not as mobile as either one of those guys,” head coach Marvin Lewis said.

Before he got injured, Smith was listed as the backup at right guard. As far as linemen currently on the roster, Reggie Stephens can play both guard and center but wasn’t active in any regular-season games last year while Otis Hudson was on the practice squad. Both were drafted in the later rounds last year. Jason Shirley was on injured reserve last year after tearing his Achilles in a basketball game.

Lewis has made upgrading the offensive line a priority during the offseason, via free agency and the draft. However with the lockout, it appears as if free agency will not occur until after the draft. This year’s draft class might have some prospects in the middle rounds that include Georgia’s Clint Boling, Michigan’s Stephen Schilling and Wisconsin’s John Moffitt.

The situation at right tackle isn’t much better. The Bengals have to decide whether to pick up the two-year option on Smith or keep the deal at four years. Dennis Roland is a restricted free agent but struggled as a starter and Anthony Collins, who is a better pass blocker, is in the final year of his contract. Center Kyle Cook, the starter the past two years, is also restricted.

When asked if there was a regret in taking Smith with the sixth overall pick two years ago, Lewis said: “I think today I still stand on the fact that Andre was warranted for the pick where he was and it hasn’t been great circumstances. We have to turn it around and get a positive out of it. The foot injury has been hard and the guy the way he played in ’09 I was feeling real good about it. Last year he wasn’t the same guy on the foot.”

TEAM NOTES

The Bengals were awarded a seventh-round compensatory pick in this year’s draft. The Bengals didn’t lose more free agents than they signed, but the choice was awarded because 11 picks were needed to reach the mandated total of 32 choices. Those picks are awarded at the end of the seventh round to the first 11 teams in the draft order.

DRAFT VISITS

CB Prince Amukamara, DE Da’Quan Bowers, DT Zach Clayton, QB Andy Dalton, DE Nick Fairley, QB Blaine Gabbert, WR Julio Jones, CB Korey Lindsey, QB Ryan Mallett, QB Cam Newton, CB Patrick Peterson, QB Christian Ponder, OC Mike Pouncey, CB Jimmy Smith, RB Daniel Thomas

DRAFT NOTES

The NFL has offered its teams the chance to send special representatives to New York next week to announce a selected pick during the 2011 Draft, and the Bengals have chosen Dr. Kim Brady, a longtime season ticket holder. Dr. Brady, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Cincinnati’s Good Samaritan Hospital, will be flown to New York next Friday (April 29) and will make the official announcement of the Bengals’ fourth-round selection.

“The league suggested a wide choice of possible presenters, including former players and other well-known individuals in local communities,” said Andrew Brown, Bengals manager of ticket sales. “But our club determined that we wanted to choose simply a loyal and enthusiastic season ticket holder. We think Dr. Brady is a great choice – he’s a regular tailgater and sometimes even works in Bengals-themed scrubs – but we mean for all our season ticket holders to share in the honor.”

Dr. Brady is a Montana native who moved to Greater Cincinnati in 1991. He resides in Milford with his wife, Whittney, and their five children. His son, Kyle, a University of Cincinnati law student, will be his guest on the trip.

PLAYER NOTES

Now that Chad Ochocinco is a soccer player with Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer, he’s getting used to not being the star. Ochocinco had a five-day tryout before coach Peter Vermes decided to keep the wide receiver around, even though his soccer skills were not up to snuff. Chad will be a member of the team’s reserve squad and practice a couple times a week.

Vermes was impressed with Ochocinco’s work ethic and attitude. Said the coach, “He really loves the game and he was into it. He wanted to try to make it. I think it’s also good for him. He realizes this is a lot more difficult than it (appears to be). For our sport, it’s great because I think there’s a lot of people out there who question how hard it is to play this game and it’s very, very difficult.”

Added club spokesman Dave Borchardt, “He realized he’s not good enough to make the team and play in games. This way, he gets to be part of the soccer locker room, which is a dream come true.”

Ochocinco, who played soccer until high school when he said his grandmother convinced him to concentrate on football, has said playing soccer will help keep him in shape during the NFL lockout. Vermes said had Ochocinco stayed with soccer, he could have played professionally.

“There’s no doubt in my mind he would be a professional player today. No doubt in my mind,” Vermes said. “We’ve had guys in here with lesser physical tools than he has. He brings something to the field, his attention to detail and he’s very conscientious about the game.”

Said Ochocinco: “With soccer it’s like playing eight straight quarters in a football game and not taking a drink. When this lockout ends and after these workouts, I’m going to be in ridiculous shape.”

(The Sports Xchange contributed to this report)