Playing the field

The Bengals coaches leave Sunday for next week's Senior Bowl, where they'll be coaching five projected first-rounders on the North team while working against six more on the South.

And if you talk to defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, he's not conceding that No. 6 pick in the draft to offense. The defense is going to be well-represented in Mobile, Ala., with Wake Forest outside linebacker Aaron Curry and USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, currently rated the second and 15th players on the Scouts Inc. board, respectively.

"We've got to get better in a lot of areas," Zimmer says. "We need any kind of pressure players. Defensive ends, tackles, linebackers and by pressure I just don't mean pass rush. But tipped balls, interceptions, disruptions."

Curry and Maualuga are playing for the South, but the Bengals get a look for themselves at a pretty good pass rusher not projected in the first round in University of Cincinnati defensive end Connor Barwin. Barwin, 6-3, 250, a converted tight end who had 11 sacks and three blocked kicks this season, is going to practice on both sides of the ball.

The Bengals also coach a couple of highly-rated offensive players in Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe and Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew, rated sixth and 13th, respectively by Scouts Inc.

The recent influx of juniors has taken up a bunch of spots on everyone's board and mock draft. While ESPN's Todd McShay's latest mock has three juniors in his top seven that have declared (including Penn State pass-rushing defensive end Aaron Maybin to the Bengals), Scouts Inc., has six juniors in their top 10.

Zimmer doesn't care how old they are, he just wants guys that give him more than the 17 sacks and 12 interceptions the Bengals had this season.

"We need better play out of our defensive ends and tackles and more production out of the SAM linebacker," Zimmer said. "Johnathan Joseph played just eight games (at cornerback) this year. You always need corners and we could use another one."

The Bengals priority list is no doubt offense early, but if the right defensive player surfaces at No. 6 it is going to be hard to pass a talented pass rusher like Curry or a middle backer like Maualuga. Also playing for the North is Missouri safety William Moore, the 29th player for Scouts Inc. who leads a deep field of defensive backs. None that are projected in the first round, but solid players in Cincinnati cornerback Mike Mickens and Notre Dame safety David Bruton for the North and Alabama safety Rashad Johnson for the South.

There will be some top offensive players to mull in Mobile, and the Bengals coaches will get to work with Monroe every day. Two other highly-regarded left tackles are playing for the South in Baylor's Jason Smith and Mississippi's Michael Oher, rated 11th and 23rd, respectively by Scouts Inc.

Besides tackles and DBs, top linebackers and centers are also in abundance next week. Joining Maualuga from USC are fellow backers Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews, not to mention Curry on the South. Ohio State's Marcus Freeman lines up for the North.

Each team is getting a pair of top centers. The North has Oregon's Max Unger, rated 32nd on the board, as well as California's Alex Mack. The South has Arkansas' Jonathan Luigs, the 2007 Rimington Award winner (named after former Bengal Dave Rimington to recognize the top center in the nation), as well as Antoine Caldwell of Alabama.

It looks like Louisville's Eric Wood of Cincinnati's Elder High School is going to play both guard and center.

After the players meet the coaches Sunday night in meetings, there will be a weigh-in Monday before the North's first practice Monday afternoon at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, site of Saturday's 7 p.m. game on NFL Network. The North will then practice the rest of the week in the morning while the South works in the stadium in the afternoons.

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