When the Cincinnati Bengals drafted center Billy Price with their first round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, offensive line coach Frank Pollack said he saw similarities between Price and five-time Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick.
At the time, Pollack saw both players as strong and fundamentally sound linemen who had the potential to “anchor an offensive line.”
It was a similar set of circumstances with offensive guard Michael Jordan, who the Bengals took in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Jordan was one of the Bengals biggest investments at guard in the previous 20 years. When Cincinnati selected Jordan, he was the fourth guard the team had drafted in the first four rounds since 2000.
At the time, Price and Jordan looked like potential building blocks. But neither player is on the 2021 Bengals roster. The Bengals traded Price to the New York Giants for reserve defensive tackle B.J. Hill, and Cincinnati cut Jordan to narrow the roster down to 53 players.
“Every year, you’ve got to make new decisions and bring new guys into the fold and see what works best for the group,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. “Billy has done some great things for us. Mike has played good football for us, winning football, as well. Those weren’t easy decisions to make.”
Since 2000, just 11 centers have been drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft, including Price. Those selections turned into some of the best centers in the NFL, including Frank Ragnow, Maurkice Pouncey, Alex Mack, Nick Mangold and Frederick.
Price is the only one of those 11 centers who hasn’t been a starting center for at least two full seasons. The other 10 centers started an average of 87 games with the team that drafted them. Price started 19 games with the Bengals, playing both center and guard.
In the 2019 NFL Draft, Jordan was the 10th guard off the board in the draft class. As one of the team’s highest draft picks at guard, Jordan immediately had the opportunity to become a starter for the Bengals.
Even though Price and Jordan stayed healthy, they combined to start just 38 total games over five combined seasons for a Bengals team that was always looking for offensive line help.
Without Price and Jordan this season, the Bengals will rely on two rookie guards and a rookie center and their backup interior offensive linemen.
"Those guys have to grow up fast, and they have,” Taylor said. “Each one of them have improved over the course of training camp, when you talk specifically about the three rookies that were drafted this year … We feel like we've got a good group of 10, that provides a lot of competition, a lot of depth and a lot of encouragement going forward."
Xavier Su’a-Filo and Quinton Spain are expected to be the Bengals starting guards, and Trey Hopkins will start at center. But if an injury occurs to any of them, the Bengals inexperience will be tested.
Second round pick Jackson Carman was an offensive tackle in college who was moved to guard. According to director of player personnel Duke Tobin, Carman had “to get himself in peak shape” at the start of training camp. As a result, Carman was demoted to the third team offensive line at one point in the preseason.
Carman played his best game of the preseason last week against the Miami Dolphins, and Taylor said Carman needs to play more consistently.
“We certainly expect him to be an impact player for us,” Taylor said. “And sometimes that happens right away, sometimes that happens in the second month of the season and sometimes that happens in the second year. They determine when that happens. A guy like Jackson has made progress over the course of training camp.”
The Bengals other option at guard off the bench is rookie D’Ante Smith, who played in only one college football game last season. Smith never played guard until the first week of training camp with the Bengals, but he rose up the depth chart and briefly earned first team reps.
Rookie center Trey Hill is the only option at backup center. While he played guard during the first few weeks of training camp, the Bengals sixth round pick will now likely be active on game day as the potential fill-in for Hopkins.
“(He made) significant jumps for him, (jumps) that grab your attention,” Taylor said. “His play speed, his strength, and his overall processing. He has a long way to go still, but that's really what grabs your attention, and he just got better and better over the course of practice over the last two weeks.”
OUT FOR THE YEAR: Since the Bengals put rookie defensive end Joseph Ossai (knee) on the injured reserve on Tuesday, he will miss the rest of the season.
The team placed offensive tackle Hakeem Adeniji and defensive end Wyatt Hubert on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, and Taylor said they will be eligible to return after six weeks.
“Could be longer, could be right at six weeks,” Taylor said. “But that's the flexibility that we have with those two guys."
UNCLEAR INJURY: On Tuesday, Taylor said that defensive end Khalid Kareem left the final preseason game with an undisclosed injury.
Taylor didn’t reveal the nature or the severity of the injury, but he said it won’t be season ending.
“Any position right now when you're at a 53-man roster is a concern, if you have an injury at that spot,” Taylor said. “We're excited about what Khalid did early in that game and hope to see more of that quickly."