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'We like big guys'

The drafting of Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap fits with the Bengals' penchant for "big guys."

Mike Zimmer and Jay Hayes got a good laugh while sitting in front of the amassed media. The Bengals defensive coordinator and defensive line coach were speaking about second-round pick Carlos Dunlap when the topic of how well Dunlap plays against the run came up.

Hayes was in the middle of explaining Dunlap's upside, of how they fully expect Dunlap to fill out his 6-6, 278-pound frame in the years to come with another 20-25 pounds when Zimmer jumped in and put matters succinctly.

"We like big guys," said Zimmer, turning to Hayes with a wry smile. "It's an inside joke."

Whatever the punch line is, Zimmer, Hayes and the other Bengals defensive minds are serious about having as many big bodies as possible on their side of the ball. In two seasons at the helm of the Cincinnati defense, Zimmer has helped the Bengals go from a group perennially found in the bottom reaches of the league stats to one that set the tone for a division championship in 2009.

Part of that transformation is scheme and style from the coach. Part of it is having the right personnel to execute those plans.

It's not just on the defensive line that Zimmer wants those big bodies. He'll take them anywhere he can get them – in the trenches, at linebacker, on the island of cornerback or in the rear guard of the defense, safety.

"Big, thick guys who can run. I'm sure (Zimmer) put that one in there, too," said head coach Marvin Lewis, obviously aware of the running gag inside the coaching staff. "It's a big man's game and you have to have speed, you have to have athleticism. I think that's key. And then the productivity, to me, is another part.

"There are some of those things that we can coach up and get better at, and there are others that you have to have. We've been very fortunate to take guys that have the intelligence to handle the National Football League and be able to handle the change that happens week to week within the scope of a football game."

Dunlap fits into a similar physical mold as last year's third-round pick, Michael Johnson, and right veteran defensive ends Antwan Odom, Robert Geathers, Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene in that they are players with long arm spans who have shown an ability to play inside and outside. The regular interior rotation of Domata Peko (6-3, 318), Tank Johnson (6-3, 305) and Pat Sims (6-2, 325) may be shorter in stature but still fit the criteria Zimmer is seeking.

When the Bengals added Wake Forest cornerback Brandon Ghee with the second of two third-round picks, they chose a player who is slightly under 6-feet but a solid 192 pounds. Starting cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph (5-11, 193) and Leon Hall (5-11, 199) are of similar builds, as are backups David Jones (6-0, 196) and Morgan Trent (6-1, 195).

"It doesn't have to be tall guys, but big guys," said Zimmer. "We want to out-physical some people so when we're talking about big guys it won't just be height."

The Bengals finished fourth in the NFL in total defense last season, allowing an average of 301.4 yards per game. They were equally as impressive in the game's most important stat – points. Opponents scored just 18.2 points per game against the Bengals, good for the sixth-best number in the NFL, and the 291 points allowed were the third-fewest by a Bengals team since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978.

"I think what you see with (Dunlap) – and with a lot of long, tall guys like this – is he has good leverage," said Hayes. "He plays with good pad level, knee bend, things like that. There's no question that he needs to get stronger. But he plays at a different level than a shorter, smaller guy.

"Like John Madden always said, 'Always give me a big guy.' "

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