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Defensive sea change begins


Safety George Iloka's defense is going to have a different look.

The Zimmer-Guenther defensive scheme that has been the spine of the Bengals' six post-season runs since 2009 is officially in the books with a report Thursday night that Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is interviewing for the job Friday.

Paul Guenther is expected to be Jon Gruden's DC in Oakland, but Gruden has yet to officially take the job. Austin's interview is the first evidence that Guenther has ended his 13 seasons in Cincinnati that began as an advance scout and included stints coaching the special teams, secondary, linebackers, and he was Mike Zimmer's third-down guru  before succeeding him as coordinator in 2014.

It's unclear if Lewis plans to bring in more candidates. But what is quite obvious now is that Lewis, already looking for only his second offensive line coach in his 16 seasons under an offensive coordinator heading into his first full season, is overseeing the most massive change to his coaching staff since his arrival in 2003. Since he hired Zimmer in 2008, the Bengals have been in the top 12 for yards allowed six times. From 1990-2007, they'd been in the top 12 once as Zimmer succeeded in changing the culture in a run that included four top seven finishes before Guenther's 2015 edition set the club's 16-game season scoring record.

Zimmer brought his defense from Atlanta after 13 seasons in Dallas and he and Guenther added to the 4-3 set with their prized creation known as the Double A Gap Blitz. The players have only known this system but its unclear if there are going to be holdovers from Guenther's staff or if the new coordinator is going to bring in his own guys. It looks like it is going to be a mix and it will be an offseason of monitoring how much of the Zimmer-Guenther scheme stays.

Austin, 52, is a Pittsburgh guy in the Lewis mold who played safety for the Pitt Panthers the late '80s and is from Sharon, Pa., about a 75-minute drive to Heinz Field.  Before coaching in the NFL for 14 seasons, he worked in college for 12 and is well known to the Bengals as the Ravens secondary coach from 2011-13. During that stretch the Ravens led the NFL in passes defensed and they had six interceptions in the three games that led to their Super Bowl title in 2012.

Since the Lions finished No. 2 in defense in Austin's first year in 2014 and became the ninth team in NFL history to finish the season allowing less than 70 rushing yards per game, Austin has been a busy head coaching candidate. Earlier this week when he interviewed for deposed Lions head coach Jim Caldwell's job, it was his ninth interview but his only one this year. Like the Bengals he's a 4-3 guy and is building off the Lions' two post-season berths. They made it in 2016 when the Lions tied for second in the NFL holding opponents to 21 points or less in 10 games that included a 6-2 stretch to finish the season.

Injuries hampered the Detroit defense this past season when they finished 27th and the Bengals saw that up close at last month's Paul Brown Stadium season finale, a 26-17 Bengals win they rushed for 142 yards, Cincinnati's second best day of the year on the ground at that point.

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