It would seem that the Bengals.com depth chart is either a bit behind, or evident that Keith Rivers will get limited work on the first-team defense. As of Saturday afternoon, the site lists Brandon Johnson and Jim Maxwell ahead of Keith Rivers as the team's WILL linebacker. Rivers got work with the first team this week in practice, making us believe that Rivers, at least, moved up to the second WILL linebacker. And truthfully, we're wondering if the team is going to move Brandon Johnson to the SAM while Rivers starts at WILL this Sunday against the Lions.
It would be foolish by the team to leave Rivers out of the starting lineup when the reality is that he'll likely start the season as the team's first-team WILL. At the same time, it would be foolish not to reward Brandon Johnson for his hard work and high-value performances in practice and scrimmages by benching him in favor of Rivers and Darryl Blackstock -- the second SAM behind an injured Rashad Jeanty.
It should be noted that Brandon Johnson has never played SAM backer, but Mike Zimmer sees potential. "It limits some things you can do with your fronts, but it improves some other things. It improves our speed, our coverage ability. He should be OK (rushing off the edge)."
In truth, Brandon Johnson is behind the eight-ball, but in a good way. Dhani Jones will be the team's starting linebacker. Keith Rivers, being a hellva talented first-round linebacker, will most likely start at WILL. So you figure that Johnson will backup Rivers at WILL -- or perhaps challenge Corey Mays as the second MLB during 3-4 formations.
The SAM position can be somewhat of a toss-up. Rashad Jeanty is injured and will likely be out for a couple more weeks; though he figures to get the starting spot at SAM. Ahmad Brooks has fallen to the third-man on the charts, still learning the position. If Brandon Johnson performs well at SAM the remainder of training camp (if the team even entertains the notion), while Jeanty will be out for a couple of weeks, Johnson has a chance to become the team's starting SAM for the entire season.
In one sense, it's all in his hands (stepping up and performing as SAM). In another, it's totally out of his hands (team chooses to make him a backup rather than competing for the starting spot).
Either way, it's a nice problem to have after last season.