CINCINNATI -- In his postgame comments to reporters late Thursday night in Kansas City, Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis referenced the way his patchwork, starting offensive line was set up.
As Lewis said, it was "rookie, rookie, new guy, new guy, new guy."
Well, technically, one of the new guys was not new. Third-year lineman Kevin Zeitler started at right guard.
Early in the game, you could barely notice the youth and general inexperience of the first-team unit. There were no negative plays on the Bengals' first offensive series of the game. No penalties, either. There was one 53-yard bomb from Andy Dalton to A.J. Green and the Bengals scored three points. All in all, it was a successful run for the group charged with protecting Dalton.
He took note of that, and credited the group of mostly rookies and offseason free-agent additions.
"Obviously, not everyone is in there," Dalton said. "[But] I trust them. They did a good job and I didn't get hit. That's all that matters."
The first-team line consisted of left tackle Marshall Newhouse, left guard Trey Hopkins, center Russell Bodine, Zeitler and right tackle Will Svitek. Newhouse and Svitek were free-agent additions, and Hopkins and Bodine were playing college football this time last year. Bodine was a fourth-round draft pick in May while Hopkins went undrafted.
Zeitler is a lock to start this season, while Bodine appears in place to start at center. Hopkins was playing in relief of Clint Boling and Mike Pollak, two left guards who have been rehabbing from knee injuries this offseason. Newhouse played for Pro Bowler Andrew Whitworth, who is slowly coming back from a late-July calf injury. Svitek was playing in place of veteran Andre Smith, who is still on concussion protocol.
As much as the Bengals would rather not have all the injuries and rehabbing linemen, they are proud of the fact they're getting valuable game and practice reps for the men comprising their patchwork line. This time could prove invaluable for Hopkins, who is starting to appear a virtual lock to make the 53-man roster. At times, he's looked like the best blocker on the offensive line.
Bodine also is getting good growth opportunities with his time blocking for both Dalton and backup quarterback Jason Campbell. He had one glaring hiccup against the Chiefs, though: an early snap that came out slightly higher than Campbell was expecting. Bodine's only real knock this camp has been snapping too quickly or sending snaps wide of their intended marks. It's something the Bengals hope to correct before the regular season begins.
On the whole, this O-line played fairly clean. The group had just one illegal procedure penalty that came while Campbell was behind center. He barks with a cadence that is good at drawing defenders into the neutral zone, but one that also can be difficult to hear in a noisy environment like Arrowhead Stadium.
"[Thursday], in general, without having but the one procedure penalty, was pretty good," Lewis said. "We were backed up right away, right in the first drive. With that big, new speaker they've got out there, you can't hear anything until you get down on the play clock and break the huddle. So you really have to focus in."
Going deep. While Dalton was in the game, the Bengals and their hodgepodge of linemen moved the ball 81 yards on eight plays before a 30-yard Mike Nugent field goal gave Cincinnati an early lead. Of those 81 yards, 53 came on a bomb to Green that was thrown with Dalton comfortably stepping up in the pocket while under extreme pressure. Something that has been lost in talking about Dalton's apparent passing improvements has been his improved footwork. He's been gliding around pockets just as smoothly and confidently all training camp.
"We knew their front was good, but they gave us the look we wanted," Dalton said of the long pass. "We knew we had a good chance at it so that's why that play was in. It was good to go out and execute."
Challenge or no challenge? Around the time James Wright caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from third-team quarterback Matt Scott, I had a back-and-forth on Twitter with someone curious as to whether the Bengals ought to challenge the play (that had originally been ruled incomplete), or to let it go and give the Bengals' offense more red zone work.
My response? Challenge and give the rookie his score.
My reasoning? While preseason games are good times to work on red zone situations, a team also can devote more time to them in practices if they wish. In this instance, you had to give the rookie what was clearly a touchdown. (He had two feet in before falling out of bounds.) You have to imagine making such a tough catch over a defender's back will boost Wright's confidence. That's what you want. It was, after all, the first ball he has caught in a game of any kind since 2012.