As the Bengals head into the offseason and began preparing for the 2013 NFL Draft, a few questions arise in the linbacking corps of a strong Cincinnati defense whose system will remain unchanged with the retention of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
The one move that is likely a given is the movement of Vontaze Burfict to the middle linebacker position. It is his most natural fit, with Burfict being an instinctual, thumping linebacker who plays the run well with his angles. Burfict’s biggest weakness in his game, stacking and shedding blockers, will likely show improvement in 2013 after another offseason in the team’s strength and conditioning program. Who lines up next to Burfict is another question.
The Will position that Burfict vacates is the glamour position of the 4-3 linebackers in a way. This player needs to be instinctual in space to play against the pass, which was often exploited with Burfict, a more downhill player, at Will. If Thomas Howard’s knee is healed, he is a prototypical Will backer who I thought had Pro-Bowl potential.
Howard ran a 4.42 40-yard dash coming out of Texas El-Paso, and has wide receiver size (6’3” tall) to combine with wide-receiver speed. His best season came in 2007, under Rob Ryan, whose 4-3 under defense in Oakland held many of the same principles as Zimmer’s. He had 77 tackles and 6 interceptions that season, and his 70 tackles in 15 starts in 2011 were productive numbers.
This draft class does hold a couple gems for an upgrade over Thomas however, including Kansas State’s Arthur Brown and Senior-Bowl sensation Khaseem Greene, a former safety who plays well in space and is a sideline-to-sideline defender. I am no draftnik by any means, but Greene seems like a player with big upside at the Will position.