Forget about the bench press, 40-yard dash, and three cone drill. When it comes to evaluating offensive line prospects, Bengals coach Paul Alexander has a unique “toughness test.”
“I shake the kid’s hand, I look them in the eye, and I judge the percentage that he would kick my butt,” said Alexander with a laugh. “And if I think he would really destroy me, then I like him.”
Suffice to say that Alexander would not like his chances in a brawl against the Bengals’ 5th round draft pick Christian Westerman – a 6’3”, 298 guard out of Arizona State who has experience as a boxer.
“It’s something that helped me in the game of football,” said Westerman. “Growing up in Arizona, there’s a weight regulation and I wasn’t able to play (football) until I was a freshman in high school. So for me, just getting in some type of contact sport was essential.
“I liked to hit people back then. I still do – but it a different way.”
“He’s tougher than hell,” said Alexander. “He’s the toughest kid in the draft. When Andrew Whitworth came out he was the toughest kid in the draft. Russell Bodine was (in 2014), and I think Jake Fisher probably was last year. (Westerman) fits right in.
“In this division you’ve got to be. It’s not for the feeble.”
Pro Football Focus gave Westerman a third round grade and ranked him as the best pass protecting guard in this year’s draft. Although Christian has never played center, the Bengals think he is versatile enough to learn the position.
“He’s been a guard and a tackle in his career, but the opportunity at center could be there too” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “All of our interior guys need to learn how to do both things, so that will be something we’ll work with him on.”
“It won’t happen overnight,” said Alexander. “It will be a year away or whatever before he can do that. But I think he’s a versatile guy.”
After fielding a few questions about Westerman’s ability to move to center, Alexander took the opportunity to defend the team’s current starter Russell Bodine who has had bouts of inconsistency in his first two NFL seasons.
“Let me tell you about Bodine,” said Alexander. “He’s better than Clint Boling was after two years. He’s similar to what Kevin Zeitler was – Zeitler didn’t start out all that great. And then I was talking to Whit about Rich Braham and he said, ‘Don’t compare Bodine to Rich Braham.’ And I said, ‘Whit. Rich Braham didn’t step on the field until his third year.’ This is a young player in his second year who is playing with a bunch of veterans that are very good offensive lineman and he’s the last one right now because he’s the youngest. But I don’t care what anybody says – I think Bodine is going to be a helluva player.
“I just think that he’s young. If you look at his birth date, he’s the same age as the kids in this draft. He came out two years early. He’s incredibly strong and tough and just needs to learn how to do it. It’s going to come.”
Unlike Bodine, Westerman will not be expected to start as a rookie. But he will be in the mix to provide immediate depth at both guard spots.
“We feel really good about the chance for him to come in right away and have a chance to uplift us,” said Lewis. “He gives us another young guy on the interior offensive line to compete.”
“I would say my biggest strengths are my overall physical strength, my consistency, and my willingness to be coachable and be a better player every day,” said Westerman. “For me overall, I want to work on technique, my first step, and all of the kinks to it. A lot of things you can get away with in college you can’t in the NFL.”
The Bengals can only hope that Westerman is as successful in the NFL as he was in the boxing ring where he figures he has competed in eight or nine bouts.
So what’s his career record?
“Honestly? I haven’t lost a fight,” he said.
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