The Bengals must be ready to get on the field for 2010.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is starting to get pumped up. Hearing the criticism about the Bengals opting not to take a safety in the draft, he offered Thursday, "They just wanted a name. If I took your name off the board they would have been happy, they didn't care. But I know you can't play. So why do it? Don't worry. We'll get a safety."
He's also getting ready for the on-field camps that begin May 11 and is planning to play defensive end Michael Johnson at outside linebacker for the spring while also working in SAM backer Rey Maualuga at middle linebacker in some packages.
But with the rookies taking the field Friday morning, Zimmer says he's not sure where second-round pick Carlos Dunlap is going to end up. Left end? Right end? Tackle?
"I don't know and I won't know tomorrow, either," Zimmer said.
As if on cue a few hours later Thursday, the Bengals claimed safety DeAngelo Willingham on waivers from Seattle. The 6-0, 200-pound Willingham came out of Tennessee as a free agent last year and the Bengals are already his fifth team. That doesn't take them out of the hunt for Ken Hamlin and C.C. Brown, two veterans they worked out this week. But they aren't looking to pay much more than $1 million and Hamlin, at least, has just been cut from a big-money deal in Dallas.
The 6-2, 210-pound Brown is a bit interesting. In five seasons (four with the Texans and last year with the Giants) he has 54 starts, 246 tackles, 19 passes defensed and three picks and he may have the ability to play some cornerback.
But Zimmer isn't worried as he looks for a safety to join starters Chris Crocker and Roy Williams, as well as the productive Chinedum Ndukwe. Two rookie free agents from last year, Tom Nelson and Rico Murray, are still going to get looks.
Zimmer has seen the reports that the Bengals tried to trade up and take USC safety Taylor Mays in the second round Friday night.
"We called every team in front of us and either they got a better deal or didn't do it," Zimmer said. "We tried. That's life. We could have taken one every round. We could have taken one in the last couple of rounds, but they probably weren't going to make the team. We found our two safeties on the street during the season (Crocker) and before the season (Williams). I'm confident we'll find one."
Zimmer says the Bengals may or may not find another starter when all is said and done ("Who knows?"), but "there are guys out there and guys on other teams that can play and who are going to get cut," he said.
The 6-7, 265-pound Johnson is an intriguing figure at either SAM or WILL backer. A third-round pick last season, Johnson flashed big in big games. His first NFL sack came on fourth down in the fourth quarter of a win over the Ravens and the next week in Pittsburgh he had the last pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that sealed that win, too. He ended up with three sacks on the year and tipped the ball that turned into Jon Fanene's interception return for a touchdown that broke open the Detroit win.
"We've got a pretty good idea he can play defensive end, so we'll put him at linebacker in the OTAs and see if we might be able to work some packages with him in any way," Zimmer said. "We're trying to utilize everybody best we can. We're just looking at different combinations. Maybe we have some sub packages out of our regular defense.
"We just want to see if he can pick up these things. See what he can do. Can he cover, can he drop? Maybe he can be a backer on some downs and an end on some downs."
Backup SAM backer Rashad Jeanty (leg) is out until training camp and Maualuga (leg) may not be ready to go right away in two weeks. That could give Johnson a lot of snaps at SAM, but Zimmer also says he could be a WILL. Also in the mix at SAM and maybe WILL is fourth-round pick Rodderick Muckelroy of Texas.
"We're going to use the OTAs to try some things and find out some things," Zimmer said.