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Missing Pieces the Cincinnati Bengals Could Still Land

Sean ODonnellContributor IIIMay 7, 2013

Missing Pieces the Cincinnati Bengals Could Still Land

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    Fortunately for the Cincinnati Bengals, there are not many holes to fill on the current roster. In fact, after the draft, the Bengals should have their starters almost set in stone for 2013. However, there are some missing pieces that could be added to improve depth or provide positional battles in camp.

    While looking at the Bengals' roster, there are some noticeable voids at certain positions behind the incumbent starter. There are plenty of positions that have very young, inexperienced players as the initial backup.

    This could provide some nasty problems if the Bengals are hit by the injury bug in 2013.

    Rationally speaking, these positions should be filled by low-cost veterans that could provide more stability if needed to step into the lineup. There are not many of these instances on the Bengals' roster, but some should still be addressed.

    Let's take a look a five missing pieces that Cincinnati could still add to address needs at a reasonable price. After all, the Bengals are still in very good shape at $21.9 million under the salary cap (via Spotrac.com).

Fullback

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    Chris Pressley is a serviceable fullback, but that is really where you draw the line with him. He is not terrible in any aspect of his game, but he does not shine in one particular category either.

    In 2012, Pressley was ranked 19th out of 25 eligible fullbacks in the league (via Pro Football Focus, subscription required). He received negative grades in every statistical category.

    Pressley is not the kind of fullback that fits in a West Coast offense. He is not a reliable receiver, and with the addition of a faster running back in Giovani Bernard, he may not be able to keep pace as a lead blocker.

    To make matters worse for Pressley, he is coming off of a season-ending knee injury suffered late in the 2012 season. There will be no telling if he is full-go until the team puts the pads back on.

    At the very least, the Bengals should bring in another fullback to compete in camp alongside Pressley. Yes, John Conner is still around, but he was brought in as more of a band-aid during Pressley's absence.

    Bringing in a veteran such as former Buffalo Bills fullback Corey McIntyre could be very beneficial for the Bengals at this juncture.

    McIntyre has more speed, athleticism and agility than Pressley and can be a receiver out of the backfield when asked. He only played 103 snaps in 2012 but was given positive grades across the board by Pro Football Focus in that span (subscription required).

Cornerback

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    The Bengals have some great starting cornerbacks returning for the 2013 season. Incumbent starter Leon Hall will top the position, followed by Terence Newman and Adam Jones.

    In the mix will also be last year's first-round draft pick Dre Kirkpatrick.

    Kirkpatrick has said earlier this offseason that he wants to start in 2013. He wants to make his way up the depth chart and become the complementary corner to Hall.

    However, that will be tough sledding for him, as he is not game-tested yet and still has lots of learning to do at the NFL level.

    After Kirkpatrick are very inexperienced corners Brandon Ghee and Shaun Prater. Neither of these players have seen active playing time in the NFL's regular season.

    This means that the position could severely suffer if one of the top three starters would be unable to perform. The Bengals should be enticed to bring in a veteran cornerback that would be able to step in and contribute in a pinch.

    By signing a veteran corner at a low cost, the Bengals are afforded a low-risk, high-reward payoff. If the younger guys show up at camp and impress coaches, the free-agent veteran would be cut with minimal loss to the team.

    Bringing in former Cleveland Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown could be a great fit here. He is coming off of a solid season where he ranked 21st out of 113 eligible cornerbacks (Hall ranked 25th) on Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    Brown is entering his 12th season in the NFL and clearly has plenty left in the tank. Signing him to a one-year contract could be very beneficial for both parties.

Strong Safety

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    The strong safety position has been one of the Bengals' most glaring weaknesses for the past several seasons. The team has attempted to place many different types of players there with little or no success.

    Currently, the roster battle for this position would be between Taylor Mays, Jeromy Miles and rookie Shawn Williams.

    Mays and Miles have tried—and failed—to fill this position and may never be NFL ready. Williams is a rookie, and although he has great upside, he still needs to develop.

    Bringing in a solid veteran safety to compete for the starting job would be a great move by the Bengals here.

    The veteran would not only help Williams to develop into a starting-caliber NFL safety but would also be able to push Mays and Miles to get better.

    This move seems like an absolute no brainer.

    One nice veteran free-agent fit for the Bengals is former Arizona Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes.

    Rhodes excels in coverage and does not hesitate to help in run support. He is a very versatile safety and could allow free safety Reggie Nelson more freedom at his position.

    Pro Football Focus ranked Rhodes the fourth-best safety in the NFL last year (subscription required). His only negative grade came from rushing the passer—something that he is not regularly asked to do.

    He would demand a higher contract, but given the opportunity to start could allow Williams to develop his coverage skills while he learns the position.

    This seems like a perfect match for what Rhodes and the Bengals should be looking for.

Center

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    The center position is, without a doubt, the weakest link on the Bengals offensive line.

    Last season, three centers started for the Bengals. The highest graded center by Pro Football Focus was rookie Trevor Robinson, who ranked 26th out of 36 eligible centers (subscription required).

    That is not a good stat if you are Andy Dalton.

    After being sacked 46 times in 2012, Dalton needs better protection for blitzes up the middle. Dalton's NFL quarterback rating without pressure averages to a 93.4. While he is pressured, it drops to a meager 47.3 according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    These numbers should be convincing enough to upgrade any offensive line position possible before training camp gets underway.

    With Robinson and Kyle Cook on board, as well as developmental rookie T.J. Johnson, Cincinnati does not have much in its arsenal at the center position.

    A player such as former Kansas City Chiefs center Ryan Lilja would fit in nicely here.

    Lilja brings a great amount of experience to the roster as well as a stronger force while run blocking. Lilja is not a great improvement in pass protection but is a better option than any center currently on the roster.

    Allowing Lilja to come in and compete for the center position could do wonders for the rest of the positional group. Each player would continue to improve during a fierce competition in training camp.

    Regardless of who comes out as the Week 1 starter, each player will significantly improve.

Middle Linebacker

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    There were not too many smiles on the faces of Bengals fans when it was announced that Rey Maualuga had been re-signed to the team. Those frowns grew even longer after head coach Marvin Lewis said that he would like Maualuga to continue to start as the middle linebacker.

    Maualuga ranks 53rd overall—that's dead last—in the Pro Football Focus middle linebacker rankings (subscription required).

    To make matters worse for Cincinnati, backup Dan Skuta was lost in free agency to the San Francisco 49ers. Also, the signing of James Harrison on the strong side keeps Vontaze Burfict on the weak side. This means that Maualuga's current backup is J.K. Schaffer.

    No, that's not good.

    The Bengals need to address the issue of bringing in another linebacker with experience in the middle. This player should also be a veteran with the ability to lead. The player should still be able to contribute consistently—he may need to due to Maualuga's injury history.

    So, who do the Bengals bring in here?

    This makes for a tough decision because certain players such as Karlos Dansby will be too expensive to sign at this point. The Bengals need a perfect balance of affordability and consistency.

    A great fit here would be former Houston Texans middle linebacker Bradie James.

    James is entering his 11th NFL season after coming off of a one-year deal with the Texans. He made $825,000 in base salary during that span. This is a perfect scenario for Cincinnati.

    The Bengals can bring in James on a one-year deal with similar terms and have a very valuable piece in place as a backup middle linebacker.

    James is still able to contribute as well. He ranked 29th overall last season out of all middle linebackers and received positive grades in coverage and run defense by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    If the Bengals can find a way to make this happen, they will add some much-needed experience to their linebacker corps this year and allow fans to breathe a little easier.

     

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