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Imprint of Bengals' free agency moves visible in pick of Cedric Ogbuehi

CINCINNATI -- For a clearer picture of the dominoes that fell Thursday night, leading Cedric Ogbuehi to become the newest Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle, look no further than two dates: March 10 and March 16.

That when the Bengals signed offensive guard Clint Boling and defensive end Michael Johnson, addressing a pair of key offseason needs.

Boling's five-year extension, worth $25 million, ensured Cincinnati would be bringing back its complete starting offensive line in 2015. The unit that anchored last season's sixth-ranked rushing offense would be back intact and have a chance to better protect Andy Dalton in the passing game. On defense, Johnson's return after a year away in Tampa Bay addressed the Bengals' need for a pass-rusher who could make last year's league-low 20 sacks a forgotten memory.

As a result, the Bengals entered this weekend's draft with relatively few places on the roster where they had to add players who could play right away. Ogbuehi, an injured yet still rehabbing project of a lineman, was a prime example of that. He likely will barely dress this season after suffering a torn ACL in Texas A&M's bowl game.

But don't tell Ogbuehi he won't be playing. Ogbuehi believes he will. Why?

"Because I just know I am," he said on a conference call with Cincinnati media Thursday night.

The optimism is commendable, but might not be realistic. It was a safe pick at No. 21, one that didn't require the Bengals to go out on a limb. They weren't too nervous another team above them in the draft would select him.

"There's not that many teams in the league that have the luxury of having their starting line back that they can work a guy in," offensive line coach Paul Alexander said. "I couldn't really imagine who would have taken him ahead of us."

With both lines secure in the starting ranks, the Bengals' focus turned to drafting for depth. The Bengals could have gone with a quick-impact pass-rusher or receiver if they wanted. Or they could have stuck with a tackle, as they did.

Head coach Marvin Lewis praised Ogbuehi for having "tremendous potential." But the Bengals, much as they did with quarterback AJ McCarron's nagging arm injury last year, have no reason to rush Ogbuehi along, thanks to Boling's return.

Alexander may "frickin' love" Ogbuehi, but he won't be putting the young lineman's name in the starting lineup in ink right now. At best, he's the fourth offensive tackle on the roster behind veterans Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith and Eric Winston. Whitworth could retire while Ogbuehi is under contract. So could Winston. Smith could leave in free agency. So before too long, Ogbeuhi's presence will be needed.

When that day comes, expect the smiles the Bengals had Thursday night to grow even larger.

"Let me tell you, there's no way we have a chance at this guy if he doesn't get hurt," Alexander said. "He's a top-of-the-draft player. There's no question that this guy has rare feet and athleticism that you see in the very best offensive linemen in the league."