Things going on over on the offensive side of the ball... We've got a franchised player who isn't even slated to start this year in "project" Stacy Andrews... We've got a star WR who doesn't want to be here in Chad Johnson... And we've got a mess in the backfield, where we don't even know who the starting RB is going to be. But enough about them already. I want to talk about defense.
When you look at our front 7, or the "box", not a lot is recognizable. Justin Smith jumped on the first offer he received faster than Drew Carey can slam a 5 dollar foot-long. We lost Landon Johnson, the team's leading tackler, in free agency to Carolina. Caleb Miller decided that he wanted to pursue his other passion and left for the seminary.
We've got some new faces in there including LB Keith Rivers, DE Antwan Odom, DT Pat Sims, DT Jason Shirley, in addition to some obscure RFAs. These four new guys all have the potential to have a big impact on the performance of this defense. But this will all hinge on the play of the interior D-Line. For anything to work this year, we need BIG play from our bigmen. It is time for Peko, Thornton, Myers, and the new kids to step it up and start wreaking havoc. If they can do this it will allow the rest of the defense to do what they do, and that is play fast, hit hard, and make plays.
Speaking of playing fast, lets take a look at the linebacking corps. This was perhaps the most unsettled area of the Bengals team last year. Plagued by injuries and shoddy play, and even playing one game with safety Chinedum Ndukwe in a linebacking spot, this position was the poster child of the Bengals reign of futility. However things are looking up this year. We've picked up Keith Rivers with the #9 pick in the draft as someone who can play all 3 positions very well. Odell Thurman, a catalyst of the AFC North Championship team in 2005, has returned and is looking to make an big impact. And several other younger players are going to look to make their mark, including Eric Henderson and Darryl Blackstock.
Here is how I see the starting lineup taking shape for the season opener:
DE- Geathers and Odom
DT- Peko and Thornton (Sims, Shirley as backups)
OLB - Odell Thurman
MLB - Keith Rivers
OLB - Tough call, either Dhani Jones or Rashad Jeanty
It doesn't look like an all-star cast, but I do think if the chemistry is right this group could have a strong season. But like I said, it ALL depends on the young DTs Sims and Shirley stepping in right away, and strong play from Peko and Thornton. We will have to wait and see. Let's hope that Mike Clown got it right, and this Sims kid is the real deal.