The Bengals attacked the offseason with a clear plan to upgrade their defense at every level. A flurry of additions through the draft and free agency, it is possible that the Bengals have at least six new starters on opening day.
After ranking in the bottom third of most defensive categories, it was no surprise the Bengals attacked the offseason by not only acquiring talented players, but winners as well.
With training camps scheduled to start July 28, Bengals.com reviews the defense heading into the 2020 season.
Free Agents: DT D.J. Reader (Texans), CB Trae Waynes (Vikings), CB Mackensie Alexander (Vikings), S Vonn Bell (Saints), LB Josh Bynes (Ravens), CB Tony Brown (Packers), CB LeShaun Sims (Titans); MLB Austin Calitro (Jaguars), CB Winston Rose (Winnipeg Blue Bombers, CFL)
Draft: LB Logan Wilson (draft), LB Akeem Davis-Gaither (Draft), DE Khalid Kareem, LB Markus Bailey (Draft)
College Free Agents: DT Tyler Clark, DT Trey Dishon, DE Kendall Futrell, MLB Marcel Spears, Jr., CB Isiah Swann
Free Agents: S Clayton Fejedelem (Dolphins), LB Nick Vigil (Chargers), LB LaRoy Reynolds (Falcons), CB Darqueze Dennard, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, CB B.W. Webb, DE Kerry Wynn
WHO IS IN CAMP
Defensive Line: DT D.J. Reader, DT Geno Atkins, DE Carlos Dunlap, DT Ryan Glasgow, DE Carl Lawson, NT Josh Tupou, DE Sam Hubbard, DE Andrew Brown, NT Renell Wren, DT Freedom Akinmoladun, DE Khalid Kareem, DT Tyler Clark, DT Trey Dishon, DE Kendall Futrell
Linebacker: MLB Josh Bynes, OLB Jordan Evans, MLB Austin Calitro, MLB Germaine Pratt, OLB Brady Sheldon, MLB Markus Bailey, OLB Akeem Davis-Gaither, MLB Marcel Spears, Jr., OLB Logan Wilson
Secondary: S Shawn Williams, CB Trae Waynes, CB Mackensie Alexander, S Vonn Bell, CB William Jackson III, CB LeShaun Sims, CB Greg Mabin, CB Torry McTyer, S Brandon Wilson, S Jessie Bates III, CB Tony Brown, CB Darius Phillips, S Trayvon Henderson, CB Winston Rose, CB Isiah Swann
DID YOU KNOW
Just six sacks separate Dunlap (81.5 sacks) and Atkins (75.5), who rank second and third, respectively, on Cincinnati's all-time sack list behind all-time leader Eddie Edwards (83.5).
PLAYER TO WATCH
Linebacker Germaine Pratt: Pratt came on strong at the end of last season, which coincided with improved play as a whole on defense. After Pratt took over the starting middle linebacker spot for Preston Brown, the Bengals improved their run defense. The Bengals limited three of their last five opponents below the 100-yard rushing mark. Coaches pointed out at the end of the season that Pratt's improved decision making helped with his aggressiveness and playmaking ability. His positive progression from 2019 could be a difference maker in the unit's overall success.
POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH
Linebacker: Let's stick with the second level and continue to look at the linebacker room. The addition of Bynes will be highly valuable from a leadership standpoint. He was one of the biggest surprises on defense for the Ravens last season. After being out of football for training camp and the first quarter of the regular season, Bynes reunited with Baltimore in Week 5 and immediately anchored the middle of a then-struggling defense for the final three months of the regular season.
There's a lot to like with the three draft picks of Wilson, Davis-Gaither and Bailey. All three are excellent in pass coverage, an area the linebackers have struggled in the last two seasons. Wilson is the most accomplished and intriguing of the first-year players. The Bengals third-round pick, Wilson ranked No. 1 among active FBS players in the nation in career defensive touchdowns with four and career solo tackles with 421. He's expected to be an every down player in defensive coordinator Lou Anaroumo's scheme.
DID YOU KNOW PART II
Two cornerstones of the defense came from the 2018 draft. Hubbard, selected in the third, has the 14.5 career sacks, most of any member from that draft class. Meanwhile, Bates has six interceptions, which is the second-most among the 2018 draftees.
VETERAN TO WATCH
CB William Jackson III: Jackson has shown the potential to be a No. 1 cornerback after defending 13 passes in 2018 and 14 in 2017. Although he started 14 of the 15 games he played last season, Jackson did not have the same production after battling through a nagging shoulder injury. The additions of Waynes and Alexander should help take some of the pressure off and allow Jackson accentuate his skills in coverage.