Welcome to the offseason of defense. As the Bengals stick to what they know in the secondary, the organization looks to infuse the front seven with speed and tenacity.
The Cincinnati Bengals have not demonstrated a somewhat muddled plan and vision for the future this offseason. As several players have willingly jumped ship, some have been brought back when they should have, and some have been brought back when they shouldn’t have. Are they rebuilding? Can the offensive line hold up? Do they need more firepower for Dalton? Amidst all the confusion, one thing rings true. The Cincinnati Bengals want the defense to return to form.
Upgrading Speed and Athleticism
After cutting ties with longtime stalwarts Domata Peko and Rey Maualuga, the Bengals organization sent signals that times were changing. Both players had been around for the entirety of the 5-year playoff run, and kept their noses clean while representing the organization with class.
When push comes to shove, however, their age and lack of burst have proven more detrimental than what the leadership brings. Dropping declining talent and sluggishness for youth, speed and upswing is not a sign of a rebuild. Upgrading Maualuga by way of Kevin Minter doesn’t necessarily mean the team is all in on a do-over. Nor does freeing up space for athletic freak Andrew Billings. What it signifies is a plan geared to improve specific areas on a once great defense.
Retaining the Secondary
When Dre Kirkpatrick hit free agency, Mike Brown’s perception of penny-pinching took center stage. Dre’s services were highly and publicly valued around the league. A team in rebuild mode doesn’t think twice to walk away, saving dollars for the next wave of talent to build around. Kirkpatrick was retained and the Bengals dodged the need to fulfill a huge need.
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The capping moment of “sticking with what we’ve got” came in the form of the organization-wide support of Pacman Jones. After adding yet another act to his off the field circus, Jones’ latest blemish looked to be his undoing. Brown has made it clear that will not be the case.
Since the Steelers incident in Cincy’s last playoff appearance, though, Jones simply has not been the same player. The attitude and ferocity that once toed the line and gave the team an edge died that night. What Jones has done now, really, is become a caricature of the fear-inducing swagger he left on the field. By pouring in their support, the Bengals organization is doubling down on the thought the former All-Pro can recreate that essence.
Looking to the Draft
Recreating the essence of defensive fear and swagger has been the Bengals ultimate goal this offseason. Speed and tenacious sideline to sideline play has been given a premium. That’s what Kevin Minter brings. That’s what Vontaze Burfict has brought and should bring again. The Bengals are sticking with what they know in the secondary and infusing the front seven with more ferocity.
As the draft looms, Cincinnati should focus on more of the same. With mocks and widespread calls for offense, in the first two days, Brown and Co. need to continue building defensively. In four of the six Bengals playoff appearances this decade, Cincinnati has finished top 10 in total defense. In the two appearances they didn’t, they were 11th and 13th respectively. With players like Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster and Hassan Reddick projected right in their first-round wheel house, a return to their dominant defensive form is there for the taking.
The Bengals defense shouldn’t just be good, or even great, really. What it needs to be is frightening. Selecting Corey Davis, John Ross, Mike Williams, Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook would be nice, but those players don’t contribute to an identity. Adding another run-stopping, pass-rushing, athletic monster could propel Cincinnati to the top ranks defensively. After all, this is the AFC North, right?