Bengals look to keep D-line rotation moving despite moves

Posted Mar 14, 2012

Frostee Rucker

In the end, the Patriots and the Browns had what the Bengals couldn't give two key backups in Jon Fanene and Frostee Rucker.

More playing time.

They left the Bengals rotation in free agency Wednesday, but the club indicated it plans to keep the rotation going by supplementing the five remaining regulars with free-agent signings of its own and next month's draft.

Both certainly got starter-type contracts. Rucker, Cincinnati's third-round pick in 2006, ended up getting five years in Cleveland, an NFL source said, with more than $8 million guaranteed and a total of $21 million. Fanene, a seventh-rounder in 2005, went to New England with what ESPN Boston said was a three-year, $12 million contact that included $3.8 million to sign.

Both Rucker and Fanene have been remarkably productive per snap despite some bouts with injuries.

Three of Rucker's six seasons have ended on injured reserve and last year was the first he played in all 16 games. Fanene has played 16 games in three of the past four seasons. A hamstring injury limited him to four games in 2006 and two in 2010.

Rucker, mainly an end but sometimes a nickel inside rusher, played about 45 percent of the snaps last season, the majority of them on running plays. The versatile Fanene also played about 45 percent with most of his snaps coming on the pass rush. According to 292 of his 486 snaps came at tackle. Rucker (four sacks) and Fanene (six) had career highs in a rotation that helped accumulate 45 sacks, the most in the nine seasons under head coach Marvin Lewis.

"Frostee and Jon have had productive careers here and have been great teammates, and their contributions in our line rotation have made them attractive to other clubs," Lewis said in a statement. "They both seem to have the opportunity to play a larger role with their new clubs, and we understand that. We wish them well and we look forward to being able to replace their snaps with the depth we have and with players we may acquire through the draft or free agency."

At least one-long time media observer of the Browns said Cleveland plans to make Rucker its starting right end and the feeling in New England is that Fanene is going to play more than he did in Cincinnati last season. Particularly inside at tackle as the Pats try to unload Pro Bowl tackle Vince Wilfork's monstrous 86-percent play time.

Fanene also figures to work at end in New England's dizzying array of 4-3 and 3-4 looks and it's going to be more than he got here with Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins (75 percent of the snaps), right end Michael Johnson (68), tackle Domata Peko (66) and left end Robert Geathers (51) returning.

Plus, 2010 sack leader Carlos Dunlap is expected to be healed from a hamstring injury that limited him to 42 percent of the snaps and his play time figures to escalate at left end.

"Frostee is very grateful to the Brown family and Marvin," said Jimmy Gould, Rucker's agent. "They gave him his chance and he's going to miss them, his teammates, and the fans."

The signings also offer more evidence that the Bengals attention is shifting to the future of their nucleus. On the defensive line they are going to have to deal with contracts that expire for Johnson, 25, at the end of 2012 and Atkins, who turns 24 in two weeks, and Dunlap, 23, after 2013.

Indications are the Bengals are seeking to fill the spots through free agency as well as a draft they feel is deep with good line prospects. Published reports have the Bengals visiting this week with Dolphins tackle Kendall Langford, 26, a third-round pick in 2008, and it's believed they have visits set up with at least two other linemen.

Media outlets have reported Wednesday that the Bengals have also set up visits with cornerbacks, running backs, and at least one guard.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati's starting left guard, Nate Livings, is scheduled to visit the Cowboys on Thursday, according to ESPN Dallas. Starting safety Reggie Nelson has been talking to the Jets, a safety-starved team also mulling LaRon Landry and Brandon Meriweather.


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