Bengals linebackers went from a great weakness to a great strength in three years

If you look at the recent history of the Bengals, you could take note that the Bengals have done a good job improving certain positions. Look at running back, going from Kenny Irons, Rudi Johnson, Kenny Watson, DeDe Dorsey and Chris Perry to Cedric Benson, Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard; not only are the team's running backs good runners, they've filled other areas of need. Such as kickoff return, or a third down back that picks up first downs. What about cornerback where the team put together a solid starting duo?

But another position saw a dramatic improvement since 2007. When the Bengals broke camp in 2007 and finalized their roster heading into the regular season, the team kept seven linebackers. Along with Rashad Jeanty, the Bengals had Ahmad Brooks, Landon Johnson, Caleb Miller, Lemar Marshall, Andre Frazier and Anthony Schlegel. Since then, Jeanty was eventually replaced by Maualuga as the team's starting strong-side linebacker, but remains in Cincinnati after signing his one-year restricted free agent tender. Brooks just signed a two year deal to stay with the San Francisco 49ers. Landon Johnson went from a tackling machine in Cincinnati to a backup and special teams guy in Carolina, recently signing with the Detroit Lions for presumably the same role. Andre Frazier signed a two-year deal before the 2009 season and remains on the team's roster today.

After that, the Bengals linebackers from that season are out of the NFL. Miller hurt his back through the course of the season, was placed on Injured Reserve in November and wasn't offered a contract to return. Lemar Marshall ruptured an Achilles tendon against the New England Patriots during an October 1 Monday Night football game in 2007. The former St. Xavier first-team All-State retired. David Pollack never recovered from a broken neck, also retiring. Anthony Schlegel played 13 games in 2007, even starting five games. In May of 2008, he was waived. At last report, he signed on with the Florida Tuskers in the United Football League

So let's recap. Seven linebackers started on the team's 2007 roster. Four are out of the NFL now. Two are special teams specialists and Jeanty remains on the Bengals roster -- who is a backup linebacker and special teams player.

What's happened since?

A few weeks after the 2007 season started, the Bengals signed free agent Dhani Jones. At the time, it wasn't what you'd call earth-shattering news -- just check out our post announcing the move. While the season was going on, Jones filled in beautifully. In November we wrote, "Jones has done more than contribute. He's one of the main reasons this defense has stabilized. His 50 tackles is over a nine game stretch. He has one sack, leads the team with 3.5 rushing stuffs and two forced fumbles". Reiterating the point the next month, I wrote, "If this team doesn't get Dhani Jones signed to, at least, a one-year deal, if anything, to keep the depth while working to build players around him, then I would honestly be shocked."

The Bengals signed Jones to a three-year deal on February 29, 2008. About a month later, the Bengals signed Brandon Johnson, who was waived by the Arizona Cardinals, to a one-year deal. In the meantime, the Bengals filled the roster with Darryl Blackstock, Corey Mays and Jeanty. A year later, the team drafted Rey Maualuga in the second round and signed linebackers like Abdul Hodge and Dan Skuta to fill out the team's linebacker spot.

Heading into the 2010 NFL Draft, the Bengals will have Dhani Jones, Rey Maualuga, and Keith Rivers starting. Brandon Johnson became a restricted free agent and was offered a second-round tender. The Bengals are still waiting for him to sign as he is undoubtedly open to signing with another team that could give him an opportunity to start. Rashad Jeanty, Dan Skuta and Abdul Hodge are signed for 2010, giving the Bengals a compliment of seven linebackers.

The team's linebacker improvement in the three years since the season started in 2007 is phenomenal. The team's backup linebackers in Jeanty and Johnson, could start with other linebacker deficient teams. Rivers and Maualuga are solid tacklers while Dhani Jones' career was reborn. Unlike the drafts in 2007, 2008 and 2009, the Bengals will not have a desperate need to draft a linebacker. Will they draft a linebacker to help solidify the position? I wouldn't doubt it. But we're not looking for starters, thanks to the team's overall focus to redevelop the position.

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