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New season

Posted: 8:15 a.m.



The prime concerns for the Bengals defense stemming from the preseason—the development of middle linebacker Ahmad Brooks and the passing yards piled up in front of the defensive backs—are being seen as just that.

Products of the preseason and areas that can't truly be evaluated until Monday night's opener.

"Let's worry about the regular season. I don't care about preseason," said defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan after Friday's practice. "Preseason is about getting the people right and the decisions right. I don't care about preseason. We're starting Monday night. So I don't worry (about the coverage). We'll know when to lock them down, and when to play soft and when to play zone integrity and man integrity."

Brooks is looking to make his sixth NFL start at the start of his second season, but it's much more than that. It's his first start since the Bengals have entrusted him with the job and it comes on the league's biggest stage against the preeminent middle linebacker and team leader of the generation Brooks grew up watching.

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

"He's the poster boy; poster man," said Brooks, catching himself. "I just like his attitude. His mental part of the game is there, his passion for football. As you get older and your body starts to slow down, you have to have that part of the game."

Brooks was in high school when he watched Lewis shake and shimmy coming out of the tunnel for the Ravens Super Bowl victory seven years ago and he remembers the monster MVP show Lewis put on. But since Brooks's father played for the Redskins, he didn't follow Baltimore as much as he does now.

"Everybody is balling. Everybody wants to get it, like they all want to make the tackle," Brooks said. "The linebackers they have, all four are aggressive. It's just not Ray Lewis out there. ... As far as everybody else on defense, from the defensive line to Ed Reed, they're all ballhawks."

That is, of course, the question. Can Brooks play with that same ferocity and downhill aggressiveness with the Ravens' effectiveness. Can he harness his first-round talent?

"Ahmad will come along. You just want the guy to give it to you when the lights go on and it counts," said defensive end Bryan Robinson. "What Ahmad has earned from us is our trust. Because Ahmad has allowed himself to become accountable. We have to count on you as opposed to last year when he got here late, threw him in the fire, this big talent. We can trust him on Monday night."

Brooks admits he had a so-so preseason. "I didn't play bad," he said. "But there's a lot of things I need to improve on."

Bresnahan has been urging Brooks to play fast and not worry about the mistakes. He watched how the Colts had some newcomers on defense that helped hold the Saints to just 10 points Thursday night and says, "Our new guy can do that. He can run around and make plays like that."

Brooks remembers things. Like running back Reggie Bush's six-yard touchdown run three weeks ago in the game against the Saints.

"People don't remember the good things, they remember the bad things," Brooks said. "I could have done something to prevent it. I went outside, he went inside ... it's not going to happen again. That's what I'm telling myself."

So Brooks doesn't really want to say very much.

"It's the NFL and it's a business, but I've been playing football for a long time," he said. "Just go play. I really don't know what to say. Just get ready for the game so I can show it, rather than talk about it. The game's not even here, and we're talking about it."

Bresnahan says he hasn't heard the criticism of the coverage of the cornerbacks and he says, "Don't worry about it. It was preseason. Now the games count."



But there is concern about health. One of those starting cornerbacks, Johnathan Joseph, hasn't practiced much as he rehabs from a foot stress fracture and the one preseason game he played he had to leave because the foot got sore. The coaches have basically given him the last two weeks off, although he came back to practice Friday. He thinks the idea is to get him on the field mainly on passing downs.

"Those guys (Leon Hall and Deltha O'Neal) have been practicing together all the time and I don't want to come in and mess that up. I only came back today," said Joseph after Friday's practice.

But Joseph said he's not worried about rust.

"I'm just trying to find my place right now so I can help my teammates," he said. "I've got a few more days of practice, making different calls, seeing different things in film study."

But Joseph says the time off has helped his foot and that he thinks the injury has calmed down. As far as the coverage, it's hard to criticize Joseph. He's barely been on the field and last year he was close enough to get his hand on a team-high 19 passes.

"It depends on the coverage," Joseph said. "You always want to put your hands on the guy if that's what the coverage is. It helps the other guys by taking the timing off the route."

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