Youth looks to be served again in wake of pending trade

Thomas Howard

With the Bengals trade of Keith Rivers to the Giants that has been reported by multiple outlets including the NFL's Web site expected to be finalized Thursday, the Bengals picked up their third fifth-round pick of this month's NFL Draft.

And with veteran backup WILL linebacker Brandon Johnson unsigned, Rivers' departure indicates that the Bengals feel comfortable about a pair of young linebackers that didn't play a snap last year being healthy enough to play backup roles.

But no doubt they'll be looking for a guy that can back up starting WILL Thomas Howard in the draft, which just got bigger. With the fifth-rounder the Bengals got from New England in the Chad Ochocinco deal, plus their own, the Bengals now have eight picks in the first five rounds.

Plus, head coach Marvin Lewis says the club could still consider re-signing Johnson.

Apparently both the Bengals and the Giants were waiitng on a final bit of paperwork Wednesday afternoon and the deal was not done at the close of business. If it goes through as everyone expects, Cincinnati is going to be busy late in the fifth round with its own pick at 156, New England's at 166 and the Giants' at 167.

Dontay Moch, last year's third-round pick making the transition from college defensive end to SAM outside linebacker, never got on the field because of a foot injury along with persistent headaches. Roddrick Muckelroy, a 2010 fourth-round pick that missed all last season with a torn Achilles sustained in the first half hour of training camp, plays mainly the middle behind Rey Maualuga but can play WILL in a pinch. It's believed that the 6-2, 245-pound Muckelroy is going to be ready for the first on-field snap of voluntary camp on May 22.

Second-year man Vincent Rey plays WILL, but has just two snaps from scrimmage while emerging as a special teams staple last season with nine tackles, and the Bengals are probably looking for a bigger body to back up Howard.

Special teams leader Dan Skuta is a restricted free agent that backs up SAM and the middle.

Rivers, the ninth pick in the 2008 draft after earning some first-team All-American mentions at USC, has had an NFL career consumed by injury. He famously missed the last nine games of his rookie season when Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward broke his jaw on a controversial blindside block, and he missed all last season after offseason wrist surgery.

When he played full-time in '09 and '10, Rivers basically split snaps with Brandon Johnson as Johnson became a third-down stalwart. Johnson played 563 snaps in '09 and 507 in '10 while Rivers went 480 and 512, respectively, according to During that stretch Rivers had 196 tackles, two sacks, one interception and six passes defensed with no forced fumbles or recoveries while Johnson had 124 tackles, two sacks, one interception, six passes defensed, and a fumble recovery.

Last season Howard, a Raiders free agent, filled in with a big season at WILL in which he played all three downs with 1,001 snaps and led the team with 120 tackles along with a sack, four passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

Linebacker isn't the only place where the youth is bubbling. With turnover at guard, safety, running back and potentially wide receiver, the Bengals are continuing to turn to the fountain that gave them four Pro Bowlers 24 and younger last season.

"We have to put our guys .. .the Otis Hudsons, (Robert) Sands, (Taylor) Mays, (Jeromy) Miles, those guys, in the mix to play," head coach Marvin Lewis said Wednesday when talking about his roster in general. "And we're doing that. Bernard Scott. We feel good about that. I do. It's what they do with the opportunities that count."

If there is one glaring hole heading into the April 26-28 draft, it is the No. 2 receiver slot opposite A.J. Green. But Lewis points to two first-year practice squad players with no NFL snaps, 24-year-old Vidal Hazelton and 22-year-old Armon Binns, and 24-year-old Brandon Tate, a fourth-year player with no catches as a Bengal. With incumbent No. 2 Jerome Simpson unsigned and on the market (and serving a 15-day sentence for a drug charge), Lewis is not jumpy.

"We feel better about that than people know," Lewis said. "We feel with Vidal, Armon, Tate, they're three guys that all have an opportunity to go over there and play if we don't sign Jerome. We feel good where we are. It's part of the National Football League to develop young players. We have to credit the coaches here with continuing to do that."

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