CINCINNATI — Bengals training camp is in full swing and so is their hunt for the five best offensive linemen on the roster.
Jonah Williams, Riley Reiff and Trey Hopkins are going to start at both tackle spots and center, but the two starting guard jobs are still up for grabs.
Rookie offensive tackle D'Ante Smith has officially entered the competition. He got first-team reps at left guard during Saturday's practice. With Quinton Spain not practicing due to a minor injury, Smith, who usually plays tackle, got a chance to show the coaching staff what he could do at guard.
"There's just some opportunities with Quinton Spain being out to rotate some other guys in there. He'd been making progress at tackle, let's throw him in at guard and see how he does and he did really well," Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said on Sunday. " So again, you just want to find the best five guys you can put out there and play them. And if D'Ante proves to be one of those guys, let's get him on the field and make it work."
Smith was in at left guard when the Bengals' offense put together a 75-yard touchdown drive. He was called for one false start, but impressed the coaches—especially since that was his first time playing guard.
His work ethic and his ability to respond to coaching has helped put him in a position to play and potentially start, much earlier than most expected.
"He is physical. He's got the right intangibles. He's a smart football player," Taylor said. "And he takes the coaching and makes himself better. So, he takes the coaching from a week ago, he takes the coaching from a day ago, and he uses that to become a better player each day, and you reward that. And so he ran in there with the ones and did a great job. There's a couple things he had not done before until yesterday's move the ball period, and he did them and he did them well. Not to say it was perfect, but I can guarantee you one thing about D'Ante is he'll take the mistakes Frank gives him and he'll correct them today, and he'll be much better today. So, really excited about the progress he's making and just his overall approach has been great to see."
Smith may have went to a small school (ECU), but he carries himself like a pro. Taylor raved about the fourth-rounder on Sunday.
"My first interaction was at the Senior Bowl during that 18 minute meeting with him where he was really impressive," Taylor said. "One of the things he laid out to you back then was his weight progression and what his goals were for his weight, and I still have my notes, he has hit every single weight progression he gave us for the season. The Senior Bowl, the combine time, reporting for NFL, reporting for training camp, bam, he hit all five of them. And so that just tells you he's got that pro mentality, where he's got a plan in place and he's going to execute it. I think he was working out with Sam Hubbard and some of those guys during the offseason, and they were really impressed by him. So just, he's a rookie, but he's got that pro mentality. And that's a great thing to have."
Smith has long arms (35.5-inches) and he's a good enough athlete to be an NFL starter. Can he continue to put on good weight? Will he be able to make the leap from a small school to the NFL in year one?
Those questions will be easier to answer when the preseason starts, but he's off to a good start.
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