The Cincinnati Bengals have one of their largest and arguably most important free agencies following the 2015 season. Geoff Hobson wrote an article this week on Bengals.com on how there are emerging leaders in the locker room, but it is understated how important it is for them to step up now. The uncertainty surrounding players like Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith heading into 2016 leads to a big question, who will be the leaders on this team following 2015?
Young players like Clint Boling and Russell Bodine will need to prove they deserve their roles. Boling will need to validate his new contract by stepping up and taking the lead this season instead of waiting until it is too late. It is his time to take the reins from Whitworth as the offensive line leader, even if Whitworth returns in 2016.
Bodine has people questioning his rookie year starting status, since he was the weak link on the offensive line. But with experience under his belt, he will need to display growth and leadership from the center position. He will need to recognize pressures and adjust the line accordingly; a leadership position for sure.
The defensive side will also need new leaders to emerge. Geno Atkins was a machine in 2012, yet was sidelined in 2013 after he tore his ACL in Week Nine against the Dolphins. He has made it clear that 2014 was no excuse and that improvement in 2015 is the only way to get back to his form.
A veteran that needs to return to his leadership role is Vontaze Burfict. He must pick back up from where he left off in 2013, but with the possibility of him starting the year on the PUP list players like Emmanuel Lamur and Rey Maualuga might need to be key leaders for the defense early on.
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Burfict took the leadership role on defense when Atkins went down in 2013 and never looked back leading all linebackers in overall tackles. A healthy Burfict is a key to the success of this defense, but Sean Porter and Paul Dawson must be ready to step up if Burfict is out.
It is clear that new leaders will emerge over the next few seasons. It has yet to be seen when and if they will emerge with current leaders in place or forced to take over once they are gone. If the Bengals want to continue their success in the regular season and take the next step, they will need to step up sooner rather than later.