Backers breakdown


Vontaze Burfict

A snapshot of the Bengals linebackers in the wake of the James Harrison signing. They'll keep six or seven, depending how the rest of the roster unfolds:


WLB - Vontaze Burfict, 2nd year, 6-1, 245: The club's Rookie of the Year last season who racked up 174 tackles despite not getting drafted and playing outside for the first time in his career. Why mess with success? Burfict is a natural middle backer, but head coach Marvin Lewis is insisting on keeping as many pieces intact on a defense that finished sixth in the NFL last season.

MLB - Rey Maualuga, fifth year, 6-2, 245: He gets ripped by everybody but the coaches. The Bengals re-upped him for two more years and are keeping him where he's started the past two seasons. They want him to be more consistent, but also like the brawn and strength he brings to the middle. Those who have watched Maualuga train says he's in the best shape of his NFL career after spending a few weeks in Los Angeles going through MMA workouts.

SAM - James Harrison, 10th year, 6-0, 242: Turns 35 in 11 days but the Bengals feel he has upgraded them at this spot in the run game as well as giving defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer more pass-rush options. A 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Harrison says he's as healthy as he's been in five years, and while there are those in Pittsburgh saying he can't cover tight ends and receivers like he once did, that's not why the Bengals signed him. They signed him to give of the league's best pass-rushing teams more firepower and an already stingy run defense more presence as well as a Pro Bowl mentor for a talented young position group.


Emmanuel Lamur - second year, 6-4, 240: Like Burfict, undrafted and gifted, he took a little longer to break in, but not much. He came off the practice squad the last nine games before becoming a regular in nickel and starting the Wild Card playoff game, and is considered the team's best cover backer. The coaches love how long and fast he is and believe he'll only get better as a dynamic space player. His teammates and coaches have been talking about how he's bulked up his upper body this offseason and looks about 10 pounds heavier than the rookie from Kansas State. "He looks like a different guy," they say.

Vincent Rey - third year, 6-2, 250: Special teams staple who has quietly become a reliable backup. Thought to be limited to only WILL because of his size, he's used his brains and preparation to be able to play all three spots while racking up 23 career special teams tackles in 34 games. Right now he and Lamur are backing up Burfict at WILL.

J.K. Schaffer - first year, 6-0, 232: The next Dan Skuta? The Bengals tried to get the La Salle High School grad when he went undrafted out of Cincinnati last April, but he opted for Jacksonville. He ended up getting cut by the Jags and Bucs before he surfaced on the Bengals practice squad for the last eight games. The coaches love the pedigree. He recorded three 100-plus tackle seasons at UC and is a heady guy that can play all three spots and doesn't mind mixing it up on special teams a la Skuta, the former special teams captain now with the 49ers. Schaffer will have to if he's going to make it, as well as be able to back up Maualuga at MIKE.

Aaron Maybin - fifth year, 6-4, 240:  The 11th pick in the 2009 draft, cut by the Bills and Jets, is excited he's playing SAM. It's a position he never played with any kind of regularity as the Bengals try to take advantage of his breathtaking speed off the edge, but the signing of Harrison means he's a backup. He had no sacks before Buffalo cut him after just two seasons. But after the Jets cut him in training camp the next year, New York brought him back a few weeks later and he ended up leading the team in sacks with six and forced fumbles with four in 2011. But this past season he had no sacks after the Jets cut him in midseason.

Brandon Joiner - first year, 6-3, 245: Before Joiner had to leave after a week of camp last spring to serve time for a five-year-old charge, he was as impressive as Burfict and Lamur at that point. The Bengals have him at SAM even though he's virtually never played backer in his life. Undrafted out of Arkansas State, he flashed enough last spring to show how he got to be the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year with 13 sacks and 19 tackles for loss as a defensive end.

Dontay Moch - second year, 6-2, 255: The third-round pick in 2011 has yet to see the field while battling severe migraine headaches for most of his two seasons. A converted college end, he had some success last preseason playing defensive end and it remains to be seen how the Bengals will use him and if they'll keep trying to work on his switch to SAM.

NOTE: Thomas Howard, the starting WILL who was Cincinnati's best linebacker in 2011 after he came over from Oakland in a two-year deal, is coming back from a torn ACL. Lewis has indicated he expects the Bengals to re-sign Howard, turning 30 in July.

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