By Jack Brennan
Defensive end Michael Bankston doesn't take to a demotion all that well, and the Bengals like it that way.
Bankston entered the 1999 season as a non-starter for the first time since 1992, his rookie season with the Phoenix Cardinals. Though he still was scheduled to see plenty of action, the starting RE position he had manned for every game in 1998 belonged to fourth-year player Jevon Langford. It was basically just a coaches' decision during the offseason.
"That was tough to deal with," Bankston recalled this past week, during the team's voluntary workouts. "I had been starting all my life, and to lose my job for reasons that didn't seem all that clear ... well, I'll just say again that it was tough."
But by the end of the '99 season, Bankston's September status no longer seemed to have much significance. The 6-5, 285-pound veteran still managed to wind up the campaign as the team leader in sacks (6.0), and he led his team's defensive line in tackles (56) for the second straight year and the sixth time in the last eight years. Bankston wound up starting nine games, as injuries hampered Langford.
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"I just kept my mind open at the beginning of last year and kept on working hard," Bankston said. "I trusted in the Lord and dealt with it that way. I had faith that my play would speak for itself, and it wound up being a pretty good season."
One might think Bankston would find himself back atop the depth chart for the start of the 2000 season. But the NFL is one tough, competitive environment, and the Bengals signed two unrestricted free agents for the defensive line during the off-season -- Vaughn Booker from the Packers and Tom Barndt from the Chiefs.
Both free agents are penciled in as starters, Booker at RE and Barndt at RT. Oliver Gibson is at starting LT, and John Copeland is the starting LE. Bankston is listed behind Booker as the No. 2 RE.
"I kind of figured that one out, that I still wouldn't be listed first," Bankston said. "But I'm still going in with the mindset that I'm first, and I plan to play like that. This is an important year for me, last year of my (three-year) contract."
Bankston knows that the depth chart listings of the defensive line don't mean quite as much as they may at other positions. The coaching staff plans to use all the defensive lineman on a rotation basis throughout the game, resulting in a relatively equal number of snaps for most players.
"It's a way to do it that keeps everybody fresh, and it works out well," Bankston said. "Tennessee rotated their guys last year, and their mindset was great. I want us to be the same way, to work and jell together and help this team win.
"We've got a great new situation here -- a new stadium, morale is up ... the atmosphere is just different from upstairs to down in the locker room. I want to do my part to keep that going in any way possible."
As to his plans for personal achievement, Bankston says:
"I'm just going in with the idea that when my opportunity in the rotation comes, I'm going to take advantage of it. If I do that, the rest will take care of itself."