Roddrick Muckelroy's injury during training camp was a disappointment. Not with the linebacker himself course; players can't control major injuries like their petty attitudes while sitting on the bench staring off into space during a certain Thursday night game on December 1st. Rather I was looking forward to his introduction into the team's stable of linebackers on defense; not just as the ol' linebacker that plays special teams routine where he ranked second on the team with 12 special teams tackles in 2010. During the first day of training camp on July 29, Muckelroy, who was expected to complete for the strong-side linebacker position that Rey Maualuga vacated, ruptures his Achilles tendon, placed on Injured Reserve.
But then the Bengals picked up a compensation prize.
Four days after Muckelroy suffered a season-ending injury, the Cincinnati Bengals signed unrestricted free agent Manny Lawson to a one-year deal worth $3 million.
According to Pro Football Focus' grading scale, Lawson is rated as the team's best linebacker. And it's shown.
Though he's largely only in the game during base defense, with three linebackers patrolling the strong-side, Lawson, who is tied for the team-lead in tackles for loss, has received a limited number of snaps (330) this season, posting more than 40 snaps three times (Broncos, 49ers and Ravens). That's half the number of defensive snaps posted by Thomas Howard, arguably the team's best defensive free agent this year.
Lawson currently has 43 tackles, a shared sack and three passes defensed. Against the Baltimore Ravens, the strong-side linebacker led the team with 10 tackles, one for loss. The week prior against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Lawson posted a season-high 11 tackles and a shared quarterback sack.
Quarterbacks targeted players Lawson was covering 19 times this year, completing only 10 for 83 yards passing and an opposing quarterback rating of 64.1.
Compensation prize indeed.
Once the season has concluded, the Bengals will decide whether to re-sign Lawson or resume their intra-organizational search for a replacement that one would think Muckelroy has a significant chance to take. Or the team could find out if Thomas Howard or Keith Rivers are capable to play strong-side while the other plays the weak-side. Either way they have options and those options.