Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Jordan Willis enters his second season with his own expectations after seeing little time on the field in 2017.
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted defensive end Jordan Willis last offseason in the third-round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Willis looked promising during the preseason with his four sacks leading the most in preseason last year but saw insufficient time on the field the rest of the season. Fourth-round pick Carl Lawson stole the show and became the primary pass rusher for the Bengals.
Throughout the season, Willis found himself mostly playing on running snaps. He collected 25 tackles, four of which were for a loss, during his 31 percent of defensive snaps. Cincinnati has excellent depth along the defensive line this season and Willis will likely see an uptick in production. With Lawson moving to more linebacker responsibilities in base packages, Willis will see more time across from star defensive end Carlos Dunlap.
Most of the defensive linemen depth will return in 2018 including Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, and Carl Lawson. Willis feels more comfortable around this group of guys after a year working together. It was something he didn’t feel last season going into the year as a rookie he told Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
"“There was a couple guys who ended up not being on the team who were making it hard on me when I first came in. I’m a quiet guy. Sometimes that is misinterpreted by people. Because I don’t talk a lot and a lot of people get offended by that or don’t understand it, so to speak.”"
Willis also noted the difference in OTA workouts as the defense is not yet set in stone. When he came in as a rookie, the defense was already made and the team knew what they were going to be doing. This season is different under new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. The former Detroit Lions coordinator has come in this offseason, and it sounds like there will be a significant amount of changes on the defensive side of the ball.
"“Last year, I felt we could have used some newness,” Willis said. “I felt like when I came in last year a lot of stuff was set in stone, that was going to be it. This year there is some difference. It’s not like you know this is the way it is. You don’t know the way it’s going to happen come camp, come preseason, come season… The next step is getting on the field.”"
Austin’s defense is primarily focused on being aggressive up front and getting into the backfield consistently. Cincinnati absolutely has the depth and talent along the defensive line to do so. Moving Lawson around the defense will also allow the defense to bring blitz packages from anywhere. Another player that will be seeing more time at a different position is defensive end, Michael Johnson.
Last season Johnson spent plenty of snaps kicking inside on passing downs. Given his age, Johnson can get better penetration taking advantage of guards who aren’t used to blocking that kind of speed. With Johnson kicking inside more this season, it could be another opportunity for Willis to take more snaps as coaches have already said they didn’t play him enough last season.
"“You would watch him play against tight ends and knock people back,” Austin said. “He can really set the edge. That was one of the things that really stood out in a positive way… I’m real confident in the fact he can play on first and second down. If we can get his pass rush to come along – which he is really working hard on – we get that up to par it really helps our team.”"
Coming into the NFL, Willis was a raw talent with extremely high potential. He displayed his run stopping abilities mostly last season as we saw in his film review, but he hasn’t had a chance to rush the passer consistently. I think we will see him take on more snaps rushing the quarterback and fans will have plenty to be excited about come regular season.