Skip to main content

Drafty defense

Carlos Dunlap

You look at the potential depth chart that head coach Marvin Lewis is set to fling officially on Aug. 6 and you look at the defense and it looks like Draft Gurus Gone Wild.

Although current first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick (leg) is expected to miss the first month of the preseason, he'll be one of 15 first- and second-rounders listed on a unit that finished seventh in the NFL rankings last season.

Here is a pure guess on how Lewis and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer are going to stack them for training camp, which opens Friday with a 3 p.m. practice on the grass fields adjacent to Paul Brown Stadium. If it's a tossup putting somebody in front of the other, we based it on NFL seniority.

(Years of NFL experience)

LDE - Robert Geathers (9), Carlos Dunlap (3), DeQuin Evans (1)

At some point Dunlap's wondrous 6-6 pass-rush moves are supposed to unseat Geathers's all-around reliability. But after listening to Zimmer earlier this week, he's still looking for plenty of intangibles from Dunlap.

"He needs to grow up. I think (knocks wood) he's finally turning the page. Now he's not going to do it without the help of me and (Domata) Peko and Robert Geathers and Leon Hall," Zimmer said. "And I'm not saying Carlos is a bad kid, because he's not a bad kid. What he is, he's a little bit immature right now. He needs to grow up. When he does, and if he does, then there's going to be a lot of tackles in the league who are going to be sweating."

Meanwhile, Geathers is the Bengals version of a professional hitter in baseball. Solid. Smart. Productive. He's a member of the 400-tackle, 30-sack, 15-passes defensed club for his career.

NT - Domata Peko (7), Pat Sims (5), Brandon Thompson (R)

Peko in the prime as he comes of a season he finished second among NFL DTs in tackles. Sims can play when he's healthy, but he's missed eight games over the past two years, including the last six of last season with injuries to both ankles.

It's not a coincidence that the Bengals allowed 140 yards per game on the ground when Sims went to the bench. Not only was he out, but it wore down guys like Geathers and Jon Fanene when they had to go inside to take some of the snaps against the run. Thompson, a third-rounder and brute in the weight room, offers some stout depth.

DT - Geno Atkins (3), Devon Still (R), Nick Hayden (3), Vaughn Meatoga (R)

Atkins went to the Pro Bowl tying the club record for sacks by a tackle (8), most among NFL interior players. Still has a sleek NFL body, and at 6-5, 305 pounds he provides some athletic length inside on pass rush. Now that he's playing fewer snaps than he did at Penn State, Still figures to show more down-to-down consistency. Hayden a sixth-round pick of the Panthers in '08, signed off the street late last season when Sims went down and played in two games.

RDE - Michael Johnson (4), Jamaal Anderson (6), Derrick Harvey (5)

There is some athleticism here. Johnson had a great start last year but got worn down by nicks when he ended up with 728 snaps, second most on the line next to Atkins. He's come back looking stronger and a lot bigger than last season's 265 pounds, plus the Bengals are trying to cut back his snaps. Anderson and Harvey, the No. 8 picks in the 2007 and 2008 drafts, respectively, should be able to take some of those. The challenge is to replace the 10 sacks the Bengals got off the bench from departed free agents Fanene and Frostee Rucker.

The D-line prides itself on its ability to rotate all eight guys without missing a beat. If the Bengals have to keep 11 DBs because of the injury to Kirkpatrick, they may be only able to keep eight, instead of nine and sitting one on Sundays.

But with the four starters, the two draft picks (Still and Thompson) and Sims, Dunlap and Anderson, that's nine right there. So it will be interesting to see how they sort it out.

SLB - Manny Lawson (7), Dan Skuta (4), Dontay Moch (2), Michah Johnson (1)

Skuta, who is also the backup middle backer, could push Lawson for some more playing time during training camp. The Bengals have also had more time now to integrate Lawson in the pass rush after his first offseason in Cincinnati.

The Bengals have no idea what they've got in Moch, the third-rounder from 2011 (fastest backer at the scouting combine) who didn't get on the field as a rookie because of injuries and is going to miss the first four games of this season for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing drugs. He can play and practice in the preseason, but won't count that first month on the 53-man roster.

MLB - Rey Maualuga (4), Roddrick Muckelroy (3), Vontaze Burfict (R)

Maualuga is looking for the breakout year and Zimmer thinks he can do it if he can just let the game come to him.

"His problem is at times he reads the plays so fast that he gets there before the ball does and he's out of position," Zimmer said. "He has to fall back, so I'm trying to get him to be more patient."

Muckelroy is an interesting guy. A fourth-rounder in 2010, he flashed on some goal-line packages and had a busy 12 tackles on special teams as a rookie before blowing out his Achilles in the first 30 minutes of last year's training camp. He's back for this camp's first snap. Micah Johnson, out of Kentucky and on his fourth NFL team looking for his first roster spot, probably sees some time in the middle as well as SAM.

Burfict, a free agent who had almost had as many personal fouls as games played at Arizona State, really impressed the coaches during the spring with how he ran the huddle and learned the playbook.

WLB - Thomas Howard (7), Vincent Rey (2),  Emmanuel Lamur (R), Grant Hunter (R)

Howard, a free agent who came over from Oakland, had an immense year last season as a three-down player whose 1,058 snaps were second only to safety Chris Crocker on the defense.

Rey is a solid special teams guy who is a little undersized at 6-2, 250, but has a big heart and hustles. Lamur, who broke into college as a safety, may quietly have the best shot of the rookie free agents to make the roster after signing following a rookie camp tryout. He had a knack for blocking kicks at Kansas State and looks to be an athletic 6-4, 232 pounds.

After the three starters and Skuta, it's going to come down to special teams for the last two spots if the Bengals do the expected and keep six backers. It seems that would give the edge to Muckelroy and Rey, but that's why they play four preseason games.

LCB - Nate Clements (12),  Terence Newman (10), Jason Allen (7), Brandon Ghee (3), Shaun Prater (R)

Clements, who missed the spring workouts with a pulled abdominal muscle, may miss the first few days of camp but figures to be back fairly soon. Zimmer, who was Newman's first NFL coordinator in Dallas, said in the spring he looked like he did back in the day. Ghee, a third-rounder from 2010, got solid reviews from the coaches for his work in the spring. They like Prater's approach and quickness, but his best bet looks like the practice squad after the Bengals took him in the fifth round out of Iowa.

RCB - Leon Hall (6), Adam Jones (6), Dre Kirkpatrick (R), Chris Lewis-Harris (R)

No one knows how Hall is going to bounce back from his torn Achilles, but he's had a great rehab and should be available this first weekend, if not Friday. But the club will be bringing him along slowly and he won't be getting a lot of snaps right away.

Jones, nagged by hamstring problems in the spring, is healthy and needs to be. When he was practicing in May, an observer like former NFL defensive back Artrell Hawkins, a Bengals radio network analyst, thought he was the most athletic and impressive corner on the field.

Kirkpatrick's leg injury isn't a long-term problem, but missing the first month is. He needs time to adjust to Zimmer's style and diversify his game, which is very good in bump-and-run but inexperienced in off coverage. It's hard to see the Bengals dressing him for the first couple of games, so might they keep an extra corner?

And if they do, does that mean six or seven? The Bengals figure to keep 10 DBs, but does the Kirkpatrick injury mean they have to keep 11 and one fewer D-lineman?

It will play out. But with six first-round corners (Hall, Clements, Jones, Newman, Allen, Kirkpatrick), plus Ghee, stay tuned for a massive roster fight. Jones's ability to return punts and Allen's experience at safety may end up being factors.

SS - Taylor Mays (3), Jeromy Miles  (3), Robert Sands (2)

Mays (a 230-pound speedster) and Miles (20 special teams tackles in 22 games) were both pretty impressive in the spring as the Bengals search for the successor to Crocker. This guy has to be able to cover, and Mays and Miles have the edge in that department on Sands going into camp. But all three guys have a lot of athleticism and speed.

FS - Reggie Nelson (6), George Iloka (R), Tony Dye (R)

Nelson is a former first-rounder coming off his best year as a pro. The 6-4, 225-pound Iloka, a fifth-rounder out of Boise State, and Dye, a 5-10, 200-pound free agent out of UCLA, are Marvin Lewis's type of rookies.

Both played a lot of snaps and were productive on the major level. Iloka made 45 starts, his first at age 17. Dye, limited to seven games as a senior because of neck and ankle injuries, won his team's co-MVP during one of his three seasons as a starter. Iloka's size sets him apart, but he'll have to make hay on special teams after making 232 tackles in his career. Dye, who may have an easier adjustment playing both safeties, didn't get much of a look in the spring because of his school's graduation date.

With the Bengals usually keeping only four safeties, Iloka and Dye may be vying for the safety practice squad spot. Nelson and Miles are athletic enough to play corner in a pinch.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.