With all eyes on the offense in the early days of the offseason, here are five leading issues facing defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
MAUALUGA IN THE MIDDLE?
A lot of people thought this move would have been made sooner, but after Maualuga's first two seasons the Bengals hung with
Maualuga continues to show big-play flashes and earn Zimmer's trust, but there's no question Zimmer wants to see more.
"He had an OK year. He wasn't fantastic. He'd tell you the same thing," Zimmer said. "He's a football player. He loves to play, he loves to practice. He's a good kid."
Not to mention tough. He played with a broken thumb the last month and is getting surgery this week.
The Bengals were lucky when they couldn't trade up and get USC safety Taylor Mays in last year's draft, because it would have cost them
The short-lived tandem of
After starting out the season as the backup SAM backer, Johnson played the last half of the season at right end and played physical enough that he showed up pretty well on some goal-line stands late in the year. The Bengals can always move Johnson back to SAM and make
Fanene, who turns 29 in March, is a free agent after missing virtually all this past season with a hamstring problem. He's been a superb role player who can work inside and outside. The Bengals have to decide if they've got enough youth to move on, but his versatility and athleticism is a good value.
So do they keep Johnson at end, move him to backer, cut Odom, re-sign Fanene?
Except for the big-play festival against the Saints, Zimmer ended the season the way he wanted to start. The Bengals didn't allow 100 yards rushing in the last three games after giving up 11 in the first 13. In '09, they held foes to less than 100 in 11 games.
Zimmer says the defense will be better once it gets some players back.
"When we were getting ready for the Jets game," Zimmer said of the Thanksgiving night loss, "we were missing 10 of our top 22 players. And that didn't count guys on the third and fourth teams. At the end of the year we did a lot of things that good defensive teams do. I still think we have a good nucleus of guys. We ended up 15th in the league, which is average, but considering who we were missing…"
One guy that Zimmer is looking to keep it going after a good late season run is WILL linebacker
"He was struggling in practice every day. I think he played better at the end of the year," Zimmer said. "Much better than at the beginning of the year."