Bengals Training Camp: The vastly improved Bengals linebackers will be fun to watch this year

Let me take you back to September 4, 2007. The Bengals just won their first preseason game, beating the Indianapolis Colts 14-6 to end with a 1-3 preseason record. It was time to participate in National Layoff Day in which several professional football players lose their jobs so teams can get underneath the required 53-man roster limit. Running back Clinton Dawson made the roster -- as did Skyler Green.

What's really interesting from the team's 2007 kickoff weekend roster is the linebackers. Ahmad Brooks started the middle. Lemar Marshall and Landon Johnson played on the outside and backups included Caleb Miller, Rashad Jeanty, Andre Frazier and Anthony Schlegel. Brooks, Miller, and Marshall were lost early in the season and eventually Cincinnati signed Dhani Jones, Roy Manning and Jim Maxwell.

Fast forward two years. Of all the players on the 2007 kickoff weekend roster, Rashad Jeanty is the only linebacker that remains. Landon Johnson signed with the Carolina Panthers and Andre Frazier returned to Pittsburgh. Ahmad Brooks signed with the San Francisco 49ers, was waived in late November but re-signed in early December. Caleb Miller and Anthony Schlegel haven't signed on with another team and you have to assume Lemar Marshall is retired, after rupturing his Achilles tendon that year. Brooks, Frazier and Johnson, players that left Cincinnati and signed on with new teams, have combined to start zero games.

Dhani Jones signed on in 2007 and solidified the team's inside linebacker spot. Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga were draft picks in 2008 and 2009 respectively. The Bengals signed Brandon Johnson and Darryl Blackstock to one-year contracts in 2008 and 2009 and Rashad Jeanty went from Exclusive Rights free agent to Restricted Free Agent and signed one-year deals each season.

Compare linebackers from the 2007 kickoff weekend roster to the team's current roster of linebackers.

Ahmad Brooks Dhani Jones
Rashad Jeanty Rashad Jeanty
Landon Johnson Keith Rivers
Caleb Miller Rey Maualuga
Lemar Marshall Brandon Johnson
Andre Frazier Darryl Blackstock
Anthony Schlegel Abdul Hodge
  Jim Maxwell

To say that Marvin Lewis and company revamped the team's linebackers from 2007, while suffering the unexpected loss of David Pollack and Odell Thurman -- considered in 2005 to be the foundation pieces at linebacker like Rivers and Maualuga are now -- would be an understatement. Each linebacker spot is vastly improved with enough youth to see long-term growth.

Two years after 2007, the Bengals are now focused on Dhani Jones in the middle. Keith Rivers returning after missing nine games to injury -- and he's looking to have a major impact this year. Rey Maualuga will compete with Rashad Jeanty all season long, claiming starting rights at strong-side linebacker. Here's where the Bengals really improve. After recording 112 tackles in 2008 with only nine starts, Brandon Johnson will be a backup weak-side linebacker. Whomever doesn't win the competition between Jeanty and Maualuga, will be a backup at strong-side linebacker.

Our linebackers will be fun to watch this year.

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