Linebacker Shuffle Underway in Cincinnati

Cincinnati Bengals third-round pick DE Michael Johnson has the team’s defensive line, linebacker and special teams coaches drooling in the wake of last weekend’s rookie minicamp. Coaches were particularly impressed with the speed with which he took to the SAM spot, though his presence at outside linebacker is — for the moment — described as “part-time.”

That could change quickly. The Bengals have been vocal about their desire to improve a flaccid pass rush, and incumbent strong-side ‘backer Rashad Jeanty, a former CFL DE, has yet to record an NFL sack. With Jeanty working on a one-year restricted free agent deal, SAM could become a full-time job for Johnson by 2010.

The Bengals are overdue for a successful DE-to-OLB conversion. Former top pick Reinard Wilson couldn’t make the transition, David Pollack’s career was cut short by a neck injury, and Jeanthy is a tough, solid run defender, but not a threat to the QB.

Cincinnati is also working second-round pick Rey Maualuga at the SAM spot, so Jeanty is under pressure from two directions. The Chickster thinks that Maualuga will win the SAM job but move inside, displacing Dhani Jones, on passing downs to make room for Johnson.

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Tags: Cincinnati Bengals Michael Johnson Rashad Jeanty Rey Maualuga

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