The Cincinnati Bengals‘ defensive front four was once something to be feared. It dominated opposing offensive lines without help allowing the defense to employ seven players in coverage against the pass while linebackers such as Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga were allowed to attack backfields unblocked in order to stop the run. The dominance of the trenches led the defense to elite status. But 2014 brought much change to Cincinnati and part of the once elite defense finished the year as the NFL’s 22nd overall defense.
Jun 11, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Will Clarke (93) during minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
This year, the Bengals’ defense will look to bounce back and help led the organization to its first playoff win since 1990. In order to turn things around several things will need to go right. But maybe more than anything the defense needs another defensive lineman to emerge, a player who offers depth all along the line, anchor the line against the run, and offer support when rushing the passer. Cincinnati has that player in second-year lineman Will Clarke.
The Bengals acquired Will Clarke in the 2014 draft. The former Mountaineer collected 49 tackles, of which an astounding 17 were for a loss, and six sacks during his final season at West Virginia.
Clarke spent much of his first season on the bench, which is typical for a Bengals rookie. It gave him time to learn from veterans while honing his skills and adding some muscle for the coming season. It’s hard work and dedication like this that should have fans excited for the 6’6″, 291-pound, second-year lineman (Clarke also has colleagues fired up for 2015).
Cincinnati will likely start Carlos Dunlap, Domata Peko, Geno Atkins, and Michael Johnson when Week One rolls around, but as fans may have noticed, the Bengals employ a heavy rotation. The team will readily substitute in players like Will Clarke, Wallace Gilberry, and Brandon Thompson (maybe even Pat Sims) depending on the situation.
At 291 pounds, Will Clarke now has the size to play either defensive end or defensive tackle for the Bengals. He’ll no doubt be an excellent backup to Michael Johnson at right end while, against the pass, Clarke has the requisite athleticism and strength to collapse pockets from the interior.
Will Clarke is poised to be a solid contributor in 2015. Having the ability to play multiple spots along the line while having had a year to learn the defense and hone his skills means Clarke is ready for his presumed uptick in playing time.
It seems appropriate to think that Clarke could be involved in anywhere from 20-40% of the defense’s snaps this year. This type increase (5.5% in 2014) would allow Clarke the necessary snaps to make an impact and help defensive coordinator Paul Guenther find success in his second year. The defense could return to its elite status in 2015, which could help bring playoff success to the Queen City. Expect Will Clarke to be a significant part of the equation.