As the offseason activity dies down and we roll towards the promise of football again under the summer sun, let us look to the future! Bengals Gab will be looking at each of the individual position groups on the team over the next several days, providing readers with a grade on each and a primer as training camp and the preseason approaches.
Next, up, the defensive backfield..
As we’ve looked at the defense, we’ve seen impressive units at defensive line and linebacker. Overall, those groups look strong but not without a few question marks. The secondary, however, appears to be as talented and as loaded as any in the league, and it should be the one area of the team that should garner the most confidence from coaches, players, and fans.
For any defense to be effective, the starting corners have to be talented and reliable, and after years of missing on top-quality corners in free agency and ignoring the position in round one, the team learned its lesson. The Bengals invested first round picks in consecutive years to land a CB tandem they hope will rival some of the best in team history.
2006 first-round pick Johnathan Joseph was healthy all year, posting 6 interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and a forced fumble to go with 69 total tackles in 2009. 2007’s first-rounder, Michigan’s Leon Hall, also pulled in 6 picks while contributing 71 total tackles and 2 forced fumbles. While some may argue that neither is a top-5 shut down corner, both are upper-echelon defensive backs that are tough, gritty, and talented.
Behind these two starters the team enjoys excellent depth with 2008’s top nickel back, David Jones finally returning fully healthy after missing the majority of 2009. Jones has starting experience and had 11 tackles in limited time, but is largely overlooked on this roster thanks to the other back-up corners the team has.
First, there’s Morgan Trent, a former college teammate of Leon Hall and 2009 sixth-round draft pick who was the primary nickel guy last year. Trent has excellent size and speed and posted 28 tackles and 1 sack in his rookie campaign. At 6-1 he creates match-up problems for WR’s, and he should only get better with a full year of experience and the offseason program under his belt.
Secondly, the team has 2010 third-rounder Brandon Ghee coming in. The stud from Wake Forest was considered one of the top DB’s in this year’s draft, and looks like a real lunch-pail kind of player in the Leon Hall mold. The six-footer is disciplined in his coverages, solid in his tackling and tough against the run.
Thirdly, the Bengals signed the controversial Adam “Pacman” Jones during the offseason. Pacman is a former top 10 pick from the 2005 draft, and despite his history of trouble with the Titans and Cowboys, he’s come to Cincinnati as an improved young man trying to save his NFL life. If he can show even a portion of the talent as a CB and return man that he once had, the team will have 6 starting-quality cornerbacks in camp.
At safety, the team is also very deep. Starting FS Chris Crocker returns for an 8th NFL season and third in Cincinnati. Crocker is an intimidating hitter with ball skills, recording 51 tackles, one forced fumble and two interceptions in 2009. Crocker is a smart veteran who plays physical football.
Speaking of playing physical football, the team returns SS Roy Williams for a second season in stripes. The former Cowboy first-round pick was playing well before lingering arm issues ended his season prematurely. A big hitter, Williams had 28 tackles and two passes defensed in only four games in 2009. With the arm fully healed, Roy looks to rival Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed as the top safety in the AFC North.
Backing up Crocker and Williams will be veterans Chinedum Ndukwe and free agent signee Gibril Wilson. Ndukwe has big-play potential and filled in superbly for Williams when he went down. In 12 starts, Ndukwe posted 89 total tackles, 2 sacks, and an interception. His main issue tends to be his discipline, as he gets out of position at times.
Wilson arrives in Cincinnati with a super bowl ring on his finger won with the NY Giants, and a penchant for toughness and tenacity. Wilson started 14 games for the Miami Dolphins in 2009, and notched 91 tackles and one sack.
Behind Wilson and Ndukwe the team also has fan favorite Tom Nelson, who made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2009, Rico Murray, and rookie Jeromy Miles. Kyries Hebert is a safety according to the roster, but his value is purely on special teams.
All are aptly coached by the meticulous Kevin Coyle and his assistant, Louis Cioffi.
Overall Position Group Grade: A
This group is deep and talented. There are no apparent weaknesses. They can legitimately go 6 deep at CB and 4 deep at safety with NFL-quality talent. Coyle is a solid position coach.
This is the strongest position on a very strong defense.
What do you think? Vote on a grade and leave a comment!
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