The Bengals made a number of free agent additions to the defense over the past month, but gauging how much better they have made themselves in the process is difficult. They added four guys who were drafted in the first round but dide not make the impact that was expected of them. If two of them turn out to be as good of signings as Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard were in 2011, I’ll call it a success.
Let’s look through the guys already on the Bengals’ roster as we gear up for the draft coming up next week.
End (5): Carlos Dunlap, Robert Geathers, Michael Johnson, Jamaal Anderson, Derrick Harvey.
Will Michael Johnson come back to his early form? He started out well, but his performance and his role diminished last season. Will either Anderson or Harvey find their inner beast in stripes? Both disappointed the teams that drafted them. I am intrigued with what I have read about Anderson, who seems to be coming around a bit and was able to learn behind two masters in Freeney and Mathis last year.
Tackle (4): Domata Peko, Geno Atkins, Pat Sims, Nick Hayden.
I was glad that the Bengals brought back Pat Sims, even though he had decided to test the free agency market. If the coaches feels that Hayden can contribute as a part of the interior rotation, the only competition in this group may come from Jamaal Anderson, who has expressed willingness to play inside.
Linebacker (9): Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson, Rey Maualuga, Roddrick Muckelroy, Dontay Moch, Dan Skuta, DeQuin Evans, Vincent Rey, Micah Johnson.
This is already a crowded position group, but one that the Bengals very much need to improve over the last several seasons. Howard and Lawson are your starters on the exterior, but Maualuga remains a question in the middle due to his lackluster play and possible suspension. Moch and Muckelroy have great potential but must stay healthy. Another impact player would certainly be a welcome addition to me.
Cornerback (6): Leon Hall, Nate Clements, Adam Jones, Brandon Ghee, Jason Allen, Terence Newman.
Will Hall be ready for the start of camp? It is doubtful that his ruptured Achilles will allow him to do much, if anything, this season. At least the coaches had better be prepared to go without him, and be pleasantly surprised if he can go. Will Newman find his old form under his old coordinator, Mike Zimmer? Will the coaches hand Allen the job simply because he is a former first rounder and can flex to safety if needed? Mike loves those dual-role guys.
Safety (4): Reggie Nelson, Taylor Mays, Robert Sands, Jeromy Miles.
Bringing back Nelson was a big move for the Bengals. Despite getting caught out of position on occasion, he has been a solid contributor in the backfield. The safety group would be frighteningly thin without him. Taylor Mays is likely the successor to Chris Crocker as the other starting safety. But it gets dicey behind them quickly. They need a couple of more guys in the group to make for a good battle in camp.
The front line should continue to be the strong suit for the Bengals. Bolstering is needed in the back 7 to take the defense to the next level and better contain the stronger offenses that the Bengals will face this year. And there will be plenty of them this year.