To date, the offseason has focused on improving the defense. Next month’s draft could be devoted to the offense. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Free Agency has basically come and gone at this point, and especially for the Bengals. Fans should be delighted at what the team has done over the offseason, though some will continue to be frustrated with the Bengals’ penchant for focusing on their own. But regardless of how you feel on that topic, Cincinnati has improved their defense.
Signing Michael Johnson gives the defense a right end it relied upon for years, and likely can going forward. The acquisition of another familiar face, Pat Sims, should help anchor the middle of the line. The combination of he and Johnson, both who are stout against the run, should help the run defense markedly improve.
A.J. Hawk‘s addition at linebacker gives the Bengals insurance that they’ll have a reliable defensive quarterback if Vontaze Burfict struggles to return to the field. And even if he doesn’t, Hawk gives the defense much-needed depth at the position. The Bengals also managed to keep Emmanuel Lamur, who showed in 2014 he still needs coaching, but could continue to develop into a solid rotational player.
After losing both Terence Newman and Taylor Mays to Mike Zimmer and the Minnesota Vikings, the secondary will need some pieces, but neither player is a devastating loss to the unit. The team was prepared for their exits after drafting Darqueze Dennard in 2014 while they’ve been grooming Shawn Williams the past couple of seasons.
The defense should be much improved heading into 2015. It doesn’t mean the Bengals shouldn’t add some pieces via the draft, but with the defensive line being the major issue last year, improving that unit should make things easier for both the linebackers and players who man the deep part of the field.
These improvements leave the Bengals in a much more flexible position heading into April 30th’s draft. These improvements also lead to the likely conclusion that they team may focus several of its higher selections on the offense.
Cincinnati requires several improvements to the unit. The offensive line’s depth is in need of a make over following changes over the past two years. The unit needs to add an offensive tackle of the future who can also act as the line’s reserve swing tackle in 2015. Meanwhile, the interior of the line also needs a reserve guard and/or center after the team chose to move on from veteran interior lineman Mike Pollak; the team is particularly thin at center with only second year starter Russell Bodine and little used T.J. Johnson on the roster.
In need of the biggest makeover is tight end. Once considered a strength of the offense, the wheels have seemingly come of the position quickly. Relentless injuries to Tyler Eifert have stymied his growth in the NFL, though he continues to don the “breakout player” tag, at least to some. Others will say he dons the dreaded “injury prone” tag. This while Jermaine Gresham, who still could return to Cincinnati according to Marvin Lewis, is gone for now; even if he does return, it’ll be following surgery on a herniated disc in his back. Currently, the Bengals only have Eifert, Kevin Brock, and practice squad player Jake Murphy under contract. Because of this, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the team “double dip” in the tight end pool during this year’s draft.
Finally, the offense is in need of a receiver. Although it isn’t an immediate need, Cincinnati needs to start thinking about the position going forward. Both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are scheduled to be free agents next year, which leaves the team only with A.J. Green, who also could technically become of free agent, and James Wright.
Adding a receiver this year, possibly in the earliest of rounds, could happen. A first round talent could push Marvin Jones to the third receiver slot; yet still bring a dynamic quality to the unit. Mohamed Sanu could become more of an offensive weapon, which fits his skill set. I don’t believe Cincinnati is quitting on either player as a receiver going forward, nor should they after Jones was so impressive in 2013 and Sanu in the first half of 2014, but investing in another receiver at some point during the draft seems both likely and prudent.
After analyzing the divisions with the unit, it becomes apparent that the offense has more holes than one would initially think. With the offensive line in dire need of depth (and a tackle of the future), the tight end position needing a complete makeover, and the need for a wide receiver, this year’s draft could easily focus on the offense. This while the team could invest in a third quarterback also, though he’d likely end up on the practice squad. Next month’s draft is “wide open” for the Bengals after investing in several improvements during free agency, but an overall offensive focus seems highly likely.
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