Updated: 10:40 a.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. — The spin cycle keeps spitting out new uniforms down here as the Bengals continue to overhaul the roster. If the Bengals renovated the offense in the draft, they have chiseled away at its defense down here even as defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer installs.
And it is believed they are close to adding another linebacker and offensive lineman while they continue to sift through cornerbacks.
The Bengals are still responding to starting WILL Keith Rivers' wrist surgery, Rey Maualuga's move from SAM to the middle, the departure of middle linebacker Dhani Jones, the stalemated contract talks with nickel backer Brandon Johnson, and the season-ending Achilles injury to backup middle backer Roddrick Muckelroy.
Zimmer has a completely different set of starting linebackers Sept. 11 in Cleveland compared to the group that lined up in New England last Sept. 12, as well as a new cornerback in Nate Clements. And he won't be able to see it all until Thursday, just 38 days from the opener, when the CBA allows everyone on the field.
But the adjustment fits into what his 2011 plan had been long before the lockout: Simple, fundamental football where they don't beat themselves. Now they have no choice with Maualuga making his debut in the middle with two veteran outside backers that have spent their productive careers on the West Coast in Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard.
Barely 12 hours after Clements met the media here at Georgetown College on Monday, word surfaced in the Tuesday wee hours via ProFootballTalk.com that one of his San Francisco linebackers had followed him when Lawson agreed to a one-year deal. He's projected as the starting SAM with Howard, signed last week, earmarked for WILL with Rivers possibly on the shelf until October.
They can't get on the field yet, but there is a certain buzz down here that believes the Bengals are now better at backer than they've had in quite some time. And in Clements the Bengals believe they get a guy they can plug in to their scheme. If he's not Johnathan Joseph in speed and cover ability, Clements certainly brings smarts, talent and comfort. That's why he signed here after the Niners made him a cap casualty earlier in the week.
"I actually started off playing in a 4-3, which is comfortable for me; I've pretty much played in every defense," said Clements, a Cleveland native. "Coming back home played a part in my decision as well. I'm family-oriented where I can be closer to my family."
What the Bengals also like about Clements is that he's also a good guy that fits a position full of them. Cornerback Morgan Trent worked with him in Arizona one offseason and found him to be in the Leon Hall/J-Joe humble mindset. And on Monday, Clements said he was going to put his 31 years and 11 NFL seasons to work, which is going to be needed during this work in progress.
"I was fortunate enough to be drafted in Buffalo where Antoine Winfield was a corner," Clements said. "He helped me learn the ropes and then later on when Antoine left and Troy Vincent came in and he actually played a big role in helping me as far as technique and understanding the concept of the game. Jerry Gray, the defensive coordinator (now) in Tennessee actually taught me how to study film. How to break down film and what to look for. Things like that have definitely made me the player I am today. Hopefully I can continue to excel as a player and help other guys the way I was taught."
The Bengals are going to stay 4-3, but once upon a time Lawson, a North Carolina State defender, came out of the draft so good that he nearly changed Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis' defense five years ago to a 3-4. Now he's going to bolster this 4-3. The Lawson move gives the Bengals flexibility. He was seen as a pass rusher in the 2006 draft and Lewis coveted his versatility so much that he planned to switch to a 3-4 if the Bengals got him. But the Niners 3-4 got him at No. 22, two spots before the Bengals selected Joseph.
Lawson, with 14.5 sacks in five seasons, didn't become the pass rusher but he became a superb outside left linebacker in the 3-4, which is played a lot like the 4-3 SAM. He's an excellent player on first and second down dropping into coverage (14 passes defensed, two picks) as well as covering tight ends and jamming them at the line, a problem the past few seasons.
Lawson reportedly signed for $3 million. Howard signed a similar deal for two years. Clements took $10.5 million for two years with $6 million of it guaranteed. On offense, running back Cedric Benson signed a one-year deal for $3 million. There looks like there's more to come. Clements already saw shuffling of his own when the $80 million contract he signed in San Francisco in 2007 no longer survived.
"I wasn't surprised," he said of the release. "I kind of knew at some point that we would have to come to the table and hammer out an agreement. It's unfortunate things played out the way that they did. I wish that organization well. As we know this is a business and things happen. Me being here, things happen for a reason. That's kind of my motto. I'm here to help this team, help guys and grow as a player. At the end of the day everyone is here for one reason and that is to win games."
With Rivers possibly starting the season on PUP, it looks like the Bengals are trying to add another backer to a group where third-rounder Dontay Moch and special teams ace Dan Skuta look to be the backups. There's been contact with Brandon Johnson, but no deal.