Free agent left guard Travelle Wharton is lost for the season with a knee injury sustained against the Jets. He was the first free-agent acquisition the Bengals made this offseason after analyzing their primary needs coming out of 2011.

Now, they return to last year's problem at guard with a number of options -- most of them young and lacking experience. Here's a look at the options at the position as Cincinnati goes forward.

Clint Boling, 6-foot-5, 311 pounds, second year: As of Sunday, he's the starter. He took over the job last year when Bobbie Williams served a four-game suspension, but he started the first three and only played one snap the rest of the season.

His problem last year was flexibility, according to offensive line coach Paul Alexander. The lack of flexibility kept his pad level high and would consistently be bullied by lower defensive linemen. Boling put together an offseason regimen specifically designed to increase that trait and by all accounts the training worked. He's performed dramatically better in camp and in the eyes of some in the organization was performing as good or better than Wharton.

“He's way ahead of where he was a year ago,” offensive line coach Paul Alexander said. “He worked very diligently and he's had a really good camp.”

Outlook: About 75-percent chance he's the starter in the opener at Baltimore. The coaches believe in him and thought he played well in a tough spot last year.

Otis Hudson, 6-foot-5, 330 pounds, second year: Hudson, a fifth-round pick in 2010, is yet to play in an NFL game but brings the combination of size and speed the Bengals love.

So far in camp, he's been a disappointment. Coaches have been tough on him and Hudson likewise on himself. Mistakes have been a regular occurrence, both physical and mental. That's why when he played well against the Jets on Friday, Alexander couldn't help but be pleasantly surprised.

“Otis' best practice was against the Jets,” he said. “I told him I am going to stay away from him. When I am on the sideline and 40 yards away he plays better.”

Hudson pinpointed the reason being his nerves. He openly admits being too tight for his own good at practice and it's cause the struggles in camp. He hopes knowing the problem will help eliminate it.

“Last year I didn't care about making mistakes and I didn't care about being perfect,” Hudson said. “I was like if I make a mistake I will just correct it on film. This year I am more worried about technique and being perfect. I am not a complete player at this point.”

Outlook: If Hudson improves his pass protection, he'd earn a shot to unseat Boling. It's not impossible. With all things equal, he'd be preferred over Boling strictly for his size on the inside. Remember, the Bengals line averages 6-4, 324 pounds. More than likely, however, the Bengals will give Boling a chance to be the starter and Hudson will slip in as the primary backup at LG and RG.

Anthony Collins, 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, fifth year: Collins played as a reserve at tackle the majority of his career but last season Marvin Lewis suggested Collins could have taken the right guard opening during Williams suspension if eh pushed harder for it.

Instead, Collins languished on the bench most of the year filling in at spot duty for RT Andre Smith late in the year. He can do his job well, but the concept of moving him to the guard spot this year brought a lukewarm reaction at best from Alexander.

“He's improved slightly,” Alexander said. “We're trying a lot of guys inside.”

Outlook: Five years in the Bengals know Collins strengths and weaknesses. He'll be given a shot during the preseason to play on the interior, but expectations aren't high he'll produce a spike in production.

Dennis Roland, 6-foot-9, 322 pounds, fifth year: Roland always has played left tackle on top of entering as an extra blocking tight end in short-yardage situations. His height makes him better suited for tackle and he never played a down at guard until Friday's preseason game.

Alexander knows what the veteran could bring to the position.

“Great technician,” he said. “I would say overall he's our best.”

Outlook: The Bengals will let Roland mix it up and see if he blossoms, but his lack of experience inside will hold him far back behind Boling, Hudson and others.

Free agent acquisition: Cincinnati could be scanning the waiver wire closely at final cuts. They did that last year picking up Mike McGlynn on the day after final cuts. McGlynn ended up splitting time at guard during the end of Williams suspension and starting the final four games of the year when Williams got hurt.

Also, don't rule out the possibility of a trade. Cincinnati has pulled off a deal in August each of the past two preseasons. If they don't see the in-house candidates cutting it, they have pieces they could move at defensive back.

Outlook: This ranks as the second most likely outcome behind Boling holding down the starting gig. This jumps to the top of the list of positions they could deal for this preseason.

Follow Paul Dehner Jr. for Bengals updates on Twitter at @CBSSportsNFLCIN.