During the winter doldrums between the Super Bowl and the NFL Combine, Bengals fans thrashed as they sought to correctly identify and bemoan the next great positional need requiring attention through the upcoming NFL Draft. Jumping forward nearly seven months, this same fan base vivaciously awaits opening day despite the majority of the team’s starters returning to all of their positions. Why were so many so quick to say certain positions were cancer-laden and requiring overhaul?
Force of habit. Bengals fans have been throwing up their hands for so many off seasons, it’s become somewhat of a ritual. Time to move on.
One of the positions that several draftniks thought Cincinnati would target in the first round was linebacker. Indeed, incumbent middle linebacker Rey Maualuga’s performance during last year’s playoff rematch against the Houston Texans was nothing short of abysmal, and behind him only rookie sensation Vontaze Burfict captured the attention of Bengals fans. Even when five-time Pro Bowler James Harrison was signed, names like Arthur Brown and Alec Ogletree were still very common selections with the twenty-first pick. After two preseason games, the linebacker corps now seems like one of the more solid positions on the roster, and with Aaron Maybin already being released, competition for only the remaining roster spots looks stalwart.
As the depth chart sits Maualuga, Burfict, and Harrison as well as Emmanuel Lamur all look to be returning. Through two preseason games, JK Schaffer and Jayson DiManche have emerged as highly impressive prospects and seem to be in on every tackle of every defensive play. If the Bengals take six linebackers, which is likely since Margus Hunt will almost certainly be a fifth defensive end, then the last spot goes to either Vincent Rey or Dontay Moch.