August 1, 2014

Howard Added to the Defense

Seemingly lost in the news of Chad Ochocinco’s trade to New England and Johnathan Joseph’s departure forHouston, there was one other notable transaction for the Bengals today. 

The team announced the addition of former Raiders linebacker Thomas Howard in between their two major departures.  Howard, a second-round pick in 2006, will immediately provide linebacker depth and will compete for a starting position at one of the outside backer spots. 

The word on Howard from some of my sources in Raider Nation is that he is exceptionally fast, and excellent in coverage.  His stats seem to bear that out with 7 interceptions and 24 passes defensed in his five years there.  

The reports I got were almost all positive.  He started nearly every game his first four years, but was replaced as a starter in 2010 by Quentin Groves.  The Raiders broughtGrovesin after he failed inJacksonville, expecting him to upgrade the position and their pass rush. However, he’s done nothing of the sort, recording only 40 tackles and 1 interception in 15 games for the silver and black last year. 

The Raiders fans I interviewed were upset Al Davis let Howard go, and all three felt that Howard should have started overGrovesin 2010.  As one noted to me, “By the end of the year, it was clear thatGrovesstunk compared to Howard, but Crazy Al plays who he wants.” 

The knock on Howard is supposedly his run support, though I conflicting input there.  Two of my Raider friends thought he was a little soft on securing the edge, but the third blamed Oakland’s weak defensive line and noted that Groves was no better; in fact much worse in his view. 

At any rate, the Bengals now have Howard in the fold with a two-year, 6.5 million dollar contract. 

Speculation now centers around where Howard will play, with the most logical spot being on the strong side, as a replacement for Rey Maualuga, who is the heir apparent at mike backer.  This allows the team to move on from Dhani Jones, shift Maualuga to his natural, college position, and improve the speed at sam.  However, with news coming out that Keith Rivers might miss significant time at will, it’s possible Howard could play there. 

It’s important to note that while it seems clear defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer wants Maualuga to take over in the middle, Jones might be retained as a back-up at all three spots.  Dan Skuta has impressed coaches with his ability to play all three spots as well, and the team is still experimenting with Michael Johnson and Robert Geathers as linebackers.

Overall, this has to be considered a very solid signing for the Bengals, and a valuable addition to both Zimmer’s defense and Darrin Simmons’ coverage units.