Normally, a team with all 11 starters coming back on defense wouldn’t make many splashes in the offseason. Then again, most teams aren’t the Cincinnati Bengals.
Cincinnati finished fourth in the NFL last season in yards per game, allowing just over 300 per game. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s troops also only allowed 19 points a game, fifth-fewest the NFL.
Thus, the main focus early in the offseason was bringing back several players that contributed to the success of the Orange and Black’s defensive unit. The team re-signed starting defensive tackle Tank Johnson and starting strong safety Roy Williams. They also brought back defensive end Frostee Rucker, linebacker Abdul Hodge, and cornerback David Jones, all of whom played significant roles as backups and spot starters last season.
Heading into April’s draft, one of the major spots where the Bengals wanted to improve defensively was getting pressure on the quarterback. Cincinnati walked the walk by drafting Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap in the Second Round and Georgia defensive tackle Geno Atkins in the Fourth Round.
Cincinnati Enquirer Bengals beat writer Joe Reedy voiced his support for Dunlap and Atkins. “I thought the draft went well defensively,” Reedy said. “They needed to pick up some pass rushers and they got them in Dunlap and Atkins.”
The Bengals also upgraded their secondary in the offseason. Not only did use their Third Round pick on Wake Forest cornerback Brandon Ghee, but they also inked veteran safety Gibril Wilson.
Bengals.com editor Geoff Hobson believes Cincinnati significantly improved their secondary by drafting a raw, but physical corner in Ghee, and essentially getting a steal in Wilson.
“They had a problem with safety depth, Roy Williams has played in just seven games the last two years,” Hobson said. “They picked up a physically talented guy in Ghee, and I think right now the dark horse pick up is Gibril Wilson.”
Of course, no mention of the Bengals offseason is complete without mention of the team’s recent signing of star-crossed cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones.
Since he has been in the league, Jones has starred for the Tennessee Titans but has also floundered with the Dallas Cowboys. He was suspended for the entire 2007 season for violating the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy and has had numerous run-ins with the law, both in college and in the professional ranks.
Reedy questions the signing of Jones, noting that, while the Bengals are no stranger to taking chances on troubled players, Pacman is a case unto himself.
“I don’t like the Pacman signing, it reinforces the stereotype as [the Bengals] being a halfway house for questionable players,” Reedy said. “They have had luck with players with like Cedric Benson and Tank Johnson, but [Jones] is ‘exhibit a’ of why [Commissioner Goodell] has a player conduct policy. You have to wonder when enough is enough.”
One thing is for certain, whether they are adding rookies, re-treads, or respectable veterans, Zimmer’s defense looks to be even better on paper. Under his tutelage, they have improved each season, both in the statistical and confidence department.
Next year should be no different.
Look for Part Three of my series on season expectations tomorrow.