Cincinnati Bengals defense has multiplied its multiplicity

Glenn Adams
Joseph Ossai #46 (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Joseph Ossai #46 (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The Cincinnati Bengals defense is looking to be more versatile this year. This means that they’ll funnel in a mix of players who excel in certain schemes as well as versatile players who can play in multiple schemes.

Over the past two years, defensive coordinator Lou Anamuro has tried to use his defensive ends in a variety of ways. One of which is to have Carlos Dunlap and Sam Hubbard line up on the edge of the defensive line, not with their hands in the dirt, but standing up in the way that a blitzing linebacker would in what’s known as a two-point stance.

The problem with this is that neither Hubbard nor Dunlap are linebackers. Thus, when they were asked to do this, they weren’t exactly fooling the opposing offenses that they were facing. When they did drop into coverage, they were liabilities in the pass defense.

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Fast forward to this offseason, and during free agency, the Bengals signed defensive end Trey Hendrickson. He is a classic 4-3 defensive end, which means he is the outside pass rusher along the defensive line with his hand on the ground. That’s what’s known as a three-point stance. Don’t look for Hendrickson to stand up in the same way as Dunlap and Hubbard did. If he does, expect the same underwhelming results.

In 2021’s NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals selected four defensive linemen. All of them bring something different to the table.

First, there is third-rounder Joseph Ossai. While playing at Texas, Ossai played the defensive end position, outside linebacker, and middle linebacker. He’s a perfect fit at outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or as a defensive end or the SAM LB (strongside linebacker) in a 4-3. If he was to line up in a two-point stance as Hubbard and Dunlap did, it could cause some confusion for the offense as to what was going to happen in a way which the latter did not.

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Fourth-round selection Cameron ‘Cam’ Sample is versatile in the same way as Ossai. He considers his versatility to be his best trait, which is something that was brought up a few times in his post-draft press conference.

At Tulane, Sample began his career as a defensive tackle and then moved outside. As a defensive end, he was able to rush out of two and three-point stances. Being able to switch from a DT to a 3-4 OLB is as versatile as one man can be.

Wyatt Hubert, the Bengals’ seventh-round pick from Kansas State, is used to playing in different schemes and at varying positions. He had 20 career sacks in three years while lining up at defensive tackle and defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, defensive end and outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme all within the same year. How he was used at Kansas State should be a harbinger for how Anarumo is going to play defense this season.

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Finally, we have Tyler Shelvin, the fourth-round selection out of LSU. He is the least versatile of the bunch when it comes to the draft picks. At six-foot-two and 350 pounds, he is what DJ Reader is, a big immovable object in the middle of a defensive line.

While Reader has more quickness to his game, Shelvin consistently commanded double teams in the run game. With the two of them on the field at the same time, that would free up Cincy’s linebackers in both run defense and blitzing situations. While Shevin himself may not be as versatile, he is a chess piece that will allow Anarumo to do some interesting things around him.

Finally, it is important not to forget the players who are already on the roster. For example, with all the pieces moving around, this could free up someone like Germaine Pratt to do what he does best.

The Bengals have used him primarily in nickel situations as a pass defender. Now, he could go back to doing what got him drafted out of NC State in the first place, being a good option to bring the blitz and play well against the run.

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This added multifaceted approach may also unlock Akeem Davis-Gaither who was a tackling machine at Appalachian State. Much like Pratt, Davis-Gaither played strong against the run and could rush the passer.

The Bengals and Anarumo have given us glimpses into how he wants to run his defense. It was clear that he just did not have the type of personnel that he needed. Now, after this draft, the plan has become clearer. Hopefully, this will play out in all the ways he has envisioned. If so, look for the Bengals’ defense to make a big jump from near the bottom of the league to the upper half.