Bengals: Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis
Defense remains the linchpin of success for the Cincinnati Bengals.
This offseason, the Cincinnati front office made various moves to retool and reload the unit a year removed from a so-so year by coordinator Paul Guenther's unit. With just 20 sacks and numerous injuries, it wasn't the typical Bengals defense.
With Michael Johnson back in the fold and other key free agents and rookies on board, on paper, the Bengals look deeper and more experienced as the summer rages toward training camp.
Before camps arrive, let's take a look at the defensive depth chart.
DE: Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, Margus Hunt, Wallace Gilberry, Will Clarke, Marcus Hardison
DT: Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Pat Sims, Brandon Thompson, Devon Still
Of the notables listed at defensive end, perhaps Michael Johnson is the most interesting.
Johnson offers what the Bengals missed last year—a solid run defender on the edge who can get after the quarterback if a lane opens. His presence reduces the role of Wallace Gilberry and takes pressure off Margus Hunt, a high-upside player who couldn't get healthy when the team expected him to pick up the slack last year.
It's a similar story with Pat Sims, who spent the last two seasons with the Oakland Raiders, ranking as the No. 18 tackle in the league in 2013 at PFF. His return puts pressure on Devon Still and Brandon Thompson, as both didn't show enough last year to replace the struggling Domata Peko or pick up the slack as Geno Atkins looked sluggish on his way back from an injury.
There will be a massive roster battle at tackle this summer, to say the least.
MLB: Rey Maualuga, A.J. Hawk, Nico Johnson
OLB: Emmanuel Lamur, Marquis Flowers, Jayson DiManche, Sam Montgomery, Vontaze Burfict, Sean Porter, Paul Dawson, Vincent Rey
The Bengals made an interesting decision this offseason by both adding A.J. Hawk and bringing back Rey Maualuga, moves some would describe as redundant.
It's feasible one of the two veterans moves to strong-side linebacker to provide a boost, but the spot comes off the field in passing situations more often than not.
Both players seem locks to stick on the roster, and the praised addition of Paul Dawson means more solid depth will lose jobs this summer. The TCU product will remind many of Vontaze Burfict on and off the field, which is a good thing considering he might have enough talent to replace the veteran while he takes his time recovering from an injury.
For depth players such as Jayson DiManche, Sean Porter and Vincent Rey, it's now-or-never time. Provided everyone remains healthy, the starters seem obvious. Whoever makes the cut behind them must ace a special teams role and provide a semblance of versatility, especially meaning an ability to play the pass.
Someone such as Rey knows the system well, but the coaching staff will want to see what Porter and Marquis Flowers can bring to the table, too.
CB: Leon Hall, Dre Kirkpatrick, Adam Jones, Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw, Chris Lewis-Harris, Troy Hill, Onterio McCalebb, Brandon Ghee
It seems something of a new era for the Bengals at corner.
Gone are the days the team brings in a Terence Newman to start next to Leon Hall and Adam Jones. Instead, it looks like Dre Kirkpatrick will start on the outside, and Darqueze Dennard will see some action in certain packages.
It's a good thing, too, with Hall and Jones continuing to climb the age ladder. Kirkpatrick earns the spot after flashes of brilliance last year, including clutch interceptions, but Dennard won't be far behind given his upside.
Perhaps most interesting is the battle behind the top four. Josh Shaw out of USC figures to stick after his bargain status in the fourth round. He can play corner or safety. Then there is Troy Hill out of Oregon, a high-upside option the coaching staff may want to keep.
Familiar faces like Chris Lewis-Harris and Brandon Ghee present strong depth options, too, while return specialist and project Onterio McCalebb could make a name for himself.
Look for the Bengals to keep five or six corners, with perhaps a mixture of youth (Shaw) and experience (Lewis-Harris) winning the day. It's a delicate balance the staff will need to strike in this pass-happy league.
S: Reggie Nelson, George Iloka, Shawn Williams, Derron Smith, Shiloh Keo, Erick Dargan
Safety remains rather cut and dry.
Reggie Nelson is one starter and one of the league's more underrated players at the position. George Iloka flirts with the same status one season removed from a breakout campaign in which he ranked as the 22nd safety in the league at PFF.
Behind them, Shawn Williams figures to get his best chance at playing time to date, at least on a rotation basis. His time to impress might be short, though, thanks to sixth-round pick Derron Smith, a turnover machine who can double as a slot corner.
No matter how it shakes out, the starting jobs and backup slots seem obvious, with little room for extra bodies as so many other positions on the deep roster could keep extra.