Defensive tackle: The Bengals’ defense has been too vulnerable up the middle for years now — including last season, when Cincinnati allowed 118.3 yards rushing per game — and an upgrade in the middle of the defensive line would pay massive dividends. The team hasn’t had a difference-maker there in quite some time. There’s talk the Bengals could move to a 3-4 scheme, and Domata Peko probably would inherit the starting nose tackle spot. Although he is a good fit, Peko has never played the extremely important position, and Cleveland could look elsewhere for help in the middle.
Tight end: The Bengals obviously have bigger issues on the defensive side of the ball, but adding a tight end who can exploit linebacker coverage would pay immediate dividends for this offense. With Kenny Irons’ return, Cincinnati will have a full backfield and should have options in the running game. The offense is built around the passing game, but WR Chris Henry is one off-the-field incident from being a nonfactor and the Bengals could use a big receiver for Carson Palmer in the middle of the field. If a tight end who fits that description falls in the draft, don’t be surprised if Cincinnati pulls the trigger. One name to remember, though, is Daniel Coats, a little-known, undrafted tight end the Bengals were quite happy with last year.
Defensive end: Justin Smith and Bryan Robinson are up for free agency. Smith is a solid starter and Robinson is past his prime, but someone needs to play the position. If Cincinnati sticks with a 4-3 scheme, Robert Geathers is a suitable edge rusher but isn’t suited to play every down. There is little else here of note. If the Bengals move to an odd front, Robinson could be brought back as a stop-gap option. Michael Myers and John Thornton also could fit the 3-4 well, but both linemen are getting up in age. Any way you cut it, though, this team needs serious help at defensive end. Cincinnati really struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks last year.
Linebacker: The talk of switching to a 3-4 sounds strange, considering that the Bengals’ linebackers, albeit decimated by injuries, were atrocious last year. This defense needs all the playmakers it can get, but if Ahmad Brooks and Odell Thurman — assuming he is reinstated — return and play at the level they are capable of, Cincinnati will be fine at both inside linebacker starting spots. On the outside, Rashad Jeanty and Geathers would fit the new scheme very well. Landon Johnson and Caleb Miller are free agents and proven playmakers, but both could be playing elsewhere in 2008, especially if the Bengals do make the switch in scheme.
Offensive tackle: Willie Anderson is in the twilight of his career and has had major durability problems of late. His replacement, Stacy Andrews, is a talented, young player dripping with upside. But Andrews is an unrestricted free agent and will be very attractive on the open market. LT Levi Jones is still a good starter, but he had injury issues and didn’t have his best season in 2007. LG Andrew Whitworth has experience at tackle, so there are options, but the Bengals would be wise to add one more offensive lineman, preferably at tackle.
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