By Joe Reedy
Clint Boling was thrust into the spotlight as a rookie last year when he started the first three games of the season at right guard.
With Travelle Wharton lost for the season with a knee injury, Boling is the focus once again. But by all indications he is better prepared this time.
Boling stepped in when Wharton was hurt during last Friday’s 17-6 win over the Jets and was back with the first unit during practice Sunday. Boling will be with the first unit for Thursday’s second preseason game at Atlanta.
“He’s done a great job in camp and obviously he is way ahead of where he was a year ago and he’ll do fine,” offensive line coach Paul Alexander said. “He’s smart, competitive and he’ll be a good player.”
Thursday’s game will be a homecoming for Boling, who grew up in nearby Alpharetta and played at Georgia, where he started 49 games. But none of those were at left guard (19 games at left tackle, 19 at right guard and 11 at right tackle).
Boling did get work at left guard last year in practice and during the first couple of weeks of training camp. In his three starts last year, Boling struggled at right guard as Bobbie Williams was serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Boling saw limited action in the Week 4 game against Buffalo and then saw only one snap the rest of the season. He was inactive for nine games.
The biggest reason everyone is optimistic about Boling is that he has improved his flexibility and pad level. Coaches have said Boling was playing with a high pad level last season that allowed opposing defenders to get under him and move him around.
Besides improving flexibility and working with a trainer, Boling got stronger in the weight room and was off to a good start in camp. Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham said he thought Boling was doing better than Wharton in practices.
Boling also feels like he is better in his technique and has a better feel for the offense.
“Obviously last year I didn’t play the way that I would have liked to,” he said. “I would have liked to keep starting, but I didn’t do a good enough job and I didn’t earn a spot. Obviously it was a big learning experience for me and I know a lot of what to expect this year and I feel that’s definitely going to prepare me.”
Boling will get the majority of the snaps with the first unit, but expect to see others get some time as well. Dennis Roland saw his first action in a game at guard against the Jets, while Otis Hudson has seen time at both left and right guard. There is also the possibility that tackle Anthony Collins could be moved inside.
Alexander said Hudson had his best day so far in the Jets game but needs to have more consistency.
With Boling moving into the starting lineup, there could be a search for a player who has versatility at both guard and center. Reggie Stephens and Trevor Robinson could fill that role, or the team could wait until final roster cuts and look for someone on waivers.
“I guess we’re always looking. I’m not nervous. Clint will be fine,” Alexander said.