With our offensive locks introduced and well on their way towards our annual roster prediction, it's time to get jiggy with the defense. Let's first point out that the team has historically (between 2006-2010) taken between eight and nine defensive linemen, between six and eight linebackers and nine to 11 defensive backs. In other words there's far less consistency on historical trends than with the offense. We're going to group the team similarly.
Defensive Line (6): Domata Peko, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, Robert Geathers, Jonathan Fanene
A rather formidable list of players, no doubt, but far from incomplete. Tank Johnson's release opens the door for second-year defensive tackle Geno Atkins for the starting job with Peko lining up at nose tackle; that is if Pat Sims doesn't make a return from injury. We suspect that if Sims does return soon, he'll start over Atkins, allowing the second-year defensive tackle to play in rotation, especially in pass-rushing situations. That being said we only have two defensive tackles as locks because we have no idea when Sims will return; though it appears that return is coming soon. That being the case, Sims is a likely "lock" when he returns and returns healthy (we can always include him later).
Robert Geathers and Michael Johnson remain the team's starting defensive ends with second-year defensive end Carlos Dunlap rotating in as a pass rusher. Fanene will likely return to his pre-2009 role where he rotated in as a defensive end during running plays and defensive tackle during passing downs.
If Cincinnati takes eight defensive linemen with Sims assumed as a lock, that leaves one spot for Clinton McDonald, Jason Shirley, Frostee Rucker, Victor Adeyanju, Jason Shirley and Lolomana Mikaele; which in reality boils down to McDonald and Rucker, which likely nominates Rucker due to his ability to pass rush from the outside and inside. If Cincinnati takes nine, which seems like the more realistic scenario, Rucker and McDonald are likely your favorites, also assuming Sims makes the roster.