Updated: 5:30 p.m.
With the Bengals expected to announce the re-signing of safety Roy Williams in the next day or two on the heels of tackle Tank Johnson's deal last week, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is looking at an intact unit that gave the franchise its highest ranking since Reagan's first term.
Which makes the draft a lot more wide open than ever before on defense. Last year the Bengals needed a linebacker fairly high for a thin group. The year before that they needed a run-stuffing tackle. The year before that they needed a cornerback ...
"We don't have to take a guy because we have to," Zimmer said Saturday, looking ahead to the April 22-24 extravaganza. "We can take a guy because he's the best guy there and that's a pretty good place to be."
Zimmer isn't saying his No. 4 crew is No. 1 yet. He's concerned about his best pass rusher coming off injury with right end Antwan Odom in rehab. "You never know about an Achilles." Zimmer will always say he's looking for a cornerback, he wants them to rush the passer better, and he needs the broken legs of linebackers Rey Maualuga and Rashad Jeanty to knit.
"We've got some questions we have to answer," Zimmer said. "But we know these guys and they know us and that's a good start."
When Zimmer re-upped for three more years back in January, the question wasn't if but when Williams would also re-up. Zimmer says he got the answer right away when Williams texted him Friday night with news of the agreement. Agent Jordan Woy said early Saturday afternoon they were close to finishing off the details and later in the day he confirmed a one-year deal.
The Cowboys drafted Williams with the eighth pick in the 2002 draft when Zimmer was the Dallas coordinator and he went to four Pro Bowls in those schemes. With whispers growing into growls that he had nothing left, particularly in coverage, Zimmer brought Williams into Cincinnati last year for a one-year deal and he has done it again even though Williams has played just seven games the past two seasons.
Williams originally fractured his forearm in '08, which limited him to just three games during his last year in Dallas after he had two plates inserted in the forearm. He went on season-ending injured reserve here after another fracture had been confirmed in November. He took a blow to the arm in practice leading up to the Oct. 4 game in Cleveland. He missed that win, had to leave the Oct. 11 win in Baltimore, and then missed the next three games. The fracture was apparently found after he took a shot when he returned to practice.
"He wasn't wearing his pad. I'm sure he'll tell you that he should have been," Zimmer said. "I think he will now."
Zimmer said the arm has come along well. Williams didn't need surgery and Zimmer thinks he could have played in the last regular season game or two.
"We wouldn't have signed him last year and we wouldn't have brought him back if we didn't think he showed us something," Zimmer said. "He'll hit you. We were just watching the Denver game (the '09 opener) and he laid out about three or four guys. He played well in the games he played. You need guys that can hit like that. Roy. Maualuga. It makes those guys think twice about coming over the middle."
Head coach Marvin Lewis said when the Bengals put Williams on IR that he brought more than hits.
"He's a great player, a great person. He's uplifted this building and we want to have all those guys we can have here," Lewis said on Nov. 13. "Tough guy to lose. But he's empowered other guys to play better and that's what you want guys to do. It's been good for us."