The Cincinnati Bengals went into this year’s draft with one primary goal: to improve the defense, primarily in the secondary. Out of the six draft picks selected, five of those picks were on the defensive side of the ball. During the draft process, defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo looked for two crucial qualities in his players, speed and versatility. Check out the top sportsbooks for betting on the NFL.
Now headed into training camp, Anarumo would like to see those traits translated from paper onto the field. Let’s take some time to see how the Bengals’ defense and special teams have improved during this off-season.
All stats courtesy of ESPN
The Bengals bring everyone back from last year’s team on the defensive line except Larry Ogunjobi, who left for free agency. DJ Reader is excited about building off last season when the NFL ranked them fifth against the run. After being stubbed and not getting any pro bowl recognition, Dj Reader has something to prove. This season, Josh Tupou, Cam Sample, and Tyler Shelvin will hold down the middle of the line again.
No defensive tackle reinforcements in free agency so far. That means the Bengals coaching staff is very comfortable with what they have going into camp. Newly signed B.J. Hill is heading into the prime of his career and has had a year to work out the kinks in his game which should allow him to be a significant force in the line.
3rd-round draft pick Zach Carter finished his career at the University of Flordia with 107 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, 17.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles. He will find his role on this defensive line, inside or at the edge.
The Bengal’s 7th-round pick Jeffrey Gunter from Coastal Carolina, had 169 tackles, 38.5 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, and nine forced fumbles. He brings a motor and athletic ability to his game.
Carter and Gunter are versatile and could add crucial rotational pieces to the defensive line.
During training camp, a name to keep an eye on is Tariqious Tisdale out of Mississippi. Going undrafted, Tisdale will have a chip on his shoulder, and his (4.63) speed could impact if he can stay healthy.
The defensive end positions will be held down again by all-pro Trey Hendrickson. He was fifth in the NLF in sacks last season with 14 but could surpass that number this year. On the other side, hometown hero Sam Hubbard will hold down the other side of the line. Sam was consistent last year with his play and looking to improve his game in 2022.
Rotational players Noah Spence and Khalid Kareem should have some competition from the newcomers, so they will have to elevate their game if they want a spot on the team.
Last year, many fans were excited to watch Texas A&M star Joseph Ossai come in and make a difference at the defensive end position. In his first preseason, Ossai sacked the “Goat” Tom Brady; an unfortunate injury sidelined him for the season. This year Ossai is back and someone to watch closely in camp. Like Ossai, the injured rookie end from Kansas State Wyatt Hubert will look to make his debut. Hubert’s motor and intensity were promising before he got hurt. I am excited to see what these two players bring to the table.
The Bengals stayed relatively healthy last season except at linebacker. Starter Logan Wilson played injured right up through the Super Bowl, then had shoulder surgery this offseason. Wilson compiled 100 tackles and four interceptions in 13 games last season. Going into his third year, Watch for Wilson to be a driving force in the middle again. Check out the best bookmakers for betting on the NFL.
Germaine Pratt will hold down the other linebacker spot, only missing two games in three years. Playing with Wilson for a year gives them the experience of making the middle of the field much more challenging for opposing teams to gain yards.
Joe Bachie and Akeem Davis-Gaither had season-ending injuries, but one will be ready to start camp. Bachie has a promising future but will start camp on the PUP list. Hopefully, he will recover quickly enough to add depth in the season. I am excited to see Davis-Gaither take his game to the next level. He has the speed to cover out of the backfield and the explosiveness to disrupt plays. Now that he is healthy, we should see him in on more downs in specific packages.
Markus Bailey started three games last season while Wilson was out and gave a solid performance with 38 tackles. Clay Johnson was added during the season and made a huge play against the Titans in the playoff game. Keandre Jones, Clarence Hicks, and rookie Carson Wells will all add to a crowded linebacker room with plenty of competition to provide depth.
The Bengals will likely keep five linebackers, so the coaching staff should feel good about the depth of this position group heading into camp.
The Bengals struggled in the secondary a few years ago, but that has all changed. Team captain Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell lead this secondary. There has been controversy concerning Bates’s contract and playing on the franchise tag. It is still to be determined if he shows up to play on time. Bell is playing in the last year of his contract and will be a steady veteran for the rookies to lean on.
Speaking of rookies, the Bengals drafted three defensive backs starting with first-round pick Daxton Hill out of Michigan. Hill is an excellent pick. He can play safety as well as outside. He took Bates reps during OTAs and may be filling in if Bates sits out.
Second-round draft pick Cam Taylor-Britt and fifth-round Tycen Andeson were selected for their speed and flexibility and could push veteran Eli Apple for a corner spot. Fans may want to keep an eye on undrafted Abu Daramy-Swaray; he can make a splash in this talent pool with a 4.4-second 40-yard dash and a 40-inch vertical jump. Another undrafted free agent, Brendan Radley-Hiles, who finished his senior year with 46 tackles, two sacks, and three quarterback hits, will be someone to observe.
Being one of the top slot corners in the NFL, Mike Hilton has immediately paid dividends for the Bengals. His intensity and passion for the game are perfect for pushing everyone in camp. One of the best free agent pick-ups was Chidobe Awuzie, who proved to be the best corner on the team. Awuzie’s work ethic is exactly the kind of player you need to show up in the big games.
Eli Apple had a much better second half of the season but will be challenged in camp early. He will need to limit his mistakes to keep his starting job. Picked up from Seattle, Tre Flowers proved to be a valuable player when covering top tight-ends. Based on his production, he should be back again this season.
Veterans Mike Thomas, Brandon Wilson, Trayvon Henderson, and Jalen Davis need a great preseason to keep a roster spot. You can never have enough depth in the secondary, so the coaching staff made sure there would be plenty of competition to make another run in the AFC.
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