Last week, we looked at the depth chart for the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense. It got us excited … real excited. That tends to happen when you know that guys with names like Dalton, Green, and Ross are playing for your team.
Now, it’s the D’s turn. Here is the depth chart for the Bengals’ defense in 2017.
Left defensive end: Starter – Carlos Dunlap. Backups – Chris Smith, Ryan Brown. Dunlap played all 16 games last year for the fourth straight time. He’s an intimidating presence at 6’6″ and 280 pounds who has collected 21.5 sacks since 2015.
Nose tackle: Starter – Pat Sims. Backups – Andrew Billings, David Dean, Brandon Thompson, Josh Tupou. Sims clogs the middle like a triple-bacon cheeseburger on your arteries. If he and Geno Atkins hold up the interior of the D-line and take away the inside run, then Dunlap and Michael Johnson can focus on containing the edges.
Right defensive tackle: Starter – Geno Atkins. Backups – Marcus Hardison, Ryan Glasgow, DeShawn Williams. They don’t come much more reliable than Atkins, who has missed only seven games since he joined the Cincinnati Bengals in 2010. He collected nine sacks in 2016. Hardison is in this third year in the league, so he should be ready to spell Atkins more and more.
Right defensive end: Starter – Michael Johnson. Backups – Jordan Willis, Will Clarke, Wallace Gilberry. Having the 6’6″ Dunlap and the 6’7″ Michael Johnson (who have pterodactyl-like wingspans) bookend your defensive line kinda makes you think twice about trying to loft a screen pass to a running back. Rookie Willis was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year last season at Kansas State.
Strongside linebacker: Starter – Nick Vigil. Backups – Carl Lawson, Marquis Flowers, Bryson Albright. Vigil looks to step up as a starter this year as his athleticism flash last season. Seems like there could be competition behind him between Flowers (who only logged seven tackles last year), second-year guy Albright, and fourth-round pick Lawson should get opportunities to rush from the edge, coaches are already raving about Lawson.
Middle linebacker: Starter – Kevin Minter. Backups – Vincent Rey, Jordan Evans, Hardy Nickerson, Jr. Minter is a new arrival from Arizona who collected 81 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season. The Cincinnati Bengals picked him up for 2017 for $4.25 million. Do it all lineback Vincent Rey is reliable and can play any if the 3 LB positions.
Left cornerback: Starter – Dre Kirkpatrick. Backups – Josh Shaw, KeiVarae Russell, Bene’ Benwikere, Tony McRae. Re-signing Kirkpatrick was huge for Cincinnati. Shaw is a capable backup who had 56 total tackles last season.
Strong safety: Starter – Shawn Williams. Backups – Clayton Fejedelem. Williams, like Kirkpatrick and free safety George Iloka, picked off three passes in 2016 – which is good for a strong safety, which is more of a run-support position.
Free safety: Starter – George Iloka. Backups – Derron Smith, Demetrious Cox. At 6’4″ and 225 pounds, Iloka has prototypical FS size and put it to good use last year, when he made 74 total tackles and defended seven passes.
Right cornerback: Starter – Adam Jones. Backups – Darqueze Dennard, William Jackson III, Brandon Wilson. Jones made 66 tackles in 2016, but he’s coming up on his 11th year in the NFL. Therefore, if/when he runs out of gas, youngsters Dennard and Jackson need to be ready.
Punter: Starter – Kevin Huber. Huber was ninth in the league in 2016 with an average of 46.3 yards per punt. And if he can keep more of his eight touchbacks out of the end zone, then a dangerous weapon becomes dangerous-er.
Kicker: Starter – Randy Bullock. Backups – Jake Elliott, Jon Brown. Bullock made five of six field goals last year, but four of them were within 30 yards – which are practically gimmes. Watch for rookie Jake Elliott and his strong, accurate leg to seize the job.
Punt returner: Starter – Adam Jones. Backups – Alex Erickson, Tyler Boyd. Jones didn’t make much of an impact in the return game last year (10 returns, 51 yards, 0 TDs). Erickson and Boyd may get more opportunities to tote the rock on punts.
Kickoff returner: Starter – Alex Erickson. Backups – Adam Jones. Erickson averages 27.9 yards per kickoff return last year for the Cincinnati Bengals. Let’s hope for more of the same.