CINCINNATI -- The Bengals' offensive line has been a mess for two seasons.
Left guard Clint Boling played for most of the 2016 season with an injured shoulder. Right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi couldn't keep his starting job, struggling so much the team started swapping him with veteran Eric Winston. Nobody took ownership of a starting position, save for Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, who both signed elsewhere in free agency.
A year later, nothing has changed. Right tackle Jake Fisher is now out for the season with an undisclosed illness.
"The procedure that he needs to have sounds worse than it likely is," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “When he saw another physician yesterday, the recommendation didn’t change. But after the procedure and medication and so forth, he needs to not be playing a contact sport for a period of time.”
Ogbuehi, who has moved to the left side, hasn't fared much better there this year, and the Bengals continued the platoon system, moving him and Fisher out for Andre Smith at times. The goal both years was partially to have the young players learn from the sidelines and partially to urge someone to step up.
The latter never happened.
"We were trying to urge a guy to take hold [of the position]. We were trying to promote that. That was the goal — promoting someone with, ‘Here’s the opportunity; now you go win the job,'" Lewis said.
When asked if he thought that was happening, Lewis was short: "I thought Jake had progressed."
With Fisher gone, that means Smith and Ogbuehi are likely the full-time starters at tackle. Winston, who will turn 34 next week, is their immediate backup after sitting on the sidelines for several months. Winston looked like he had lost a step in training camp and did not make the team, although the Bengals told him to be on the lookout for a phone call should they ever need him.
They certainly need someone.
Lewis mentioned this week that the team would take a hard look at how they do things and who they do it with. But in the case of the offensive line, there aren't many options. Trey Hopkins is likely the only other player with potential to move to the outside if needed. If that happened, then T.J. Johnson probably would take his place at right guard. The only other two linemen on the active roster, Alex Redmond and Christian Westerman, hardly seem ready.
After almost two seasons, it's time for someone on the offensive line to step up. But it's looking increasingly unlikely that's going to happen with the current roster. The Bengals are going to have to hope for the best with their patchwork line.