Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson kicked inside during obvious passing downs in 2017 with some success. Could his role increase in 2018?
The Cincinnati Bengals have tremendous depth at the defensive end position going into the 2018 season. For years, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson have led the way for the defensive end position. Last season, Carl Lawson played most of the edge rushing roles in the nickel formation and looks to get a significant amount of snaps there in 2018. There will also be the emergence of second-year defensive end Jordan Willis taking snaps at the end position across from Dunlap.
Multiple coaches have expressed this offseason that Jordan Willis didn’t get enough playing time last season. He will take on a bigger role in 2018 after playing on most running downs last year. Willis has significant potential as not only a run stopper but as a pass rusher when we looked at the film. Given the uptick in snaps for both Willis and Lawson, Johnson will likely find most of his role on the inside of the defensive line when it comes to passing downs.
Johnson, 31-years-old, is still productive but has taken a step back in his age. Cincinnati tested him inside last season and he had five sacks last season tying his 2015 sack total. Bengals defensive line coach Jacob Burney says that with a full offseason of working in the new role, he will see even more production from that position in 2018 per Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com.
“We opened that door last year and it worked out OK,” Burney said. “People have seen him in there so they’ll be better prepared for him than they were before. He’s a long guy, so he needs to learn how to use that length down in there. Guards aren’t used to dealing with a guy like that.”
Standing at 6’7″ and 272-pounds, Johnson will be a force that guards are not usually tested with. His quickness will allow him to take advantage of guards on the inside and make a difference up the middle. Suffering an injury in 2017, Johnson could have likely had even more success in his new role. Now, offenses will have a little more film on Johnson from the middle and be better prepared so it will be interesting to see how he does in a larger role at the position.
Considering that the Bengals have mostly question marks at the defensive tackle position next to star Geno Atkins, Cincinnati is taking a long time leader and finding a place for him to work in the final season of his respected contract. Given his stiffness that has come along with getting older, I think Johnson moving inside as a pass rusher will prove successful. Allowing younger talents on the outside opposite of Dunlap and still keeping a talented player by moving him inside seems like a good move to me.
Other defensive tackles like Chris Baker, Ryan Glasgow, and Andrew Billings are all question marks at this point. None of the defensive tackles are pass rushing disrupters either which will make Johnson extremely valuable. It’s another rotational piece on a very talented defensive line for new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin to take advantage of as he wants to become more aggressive up front in 2018.