STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 12: Devon Still #71 of the Penn State Nittany Lions celebrates after sacking Taylor Martinez #3 (not pictured) of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the game on November 12, 2011 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
It's alright to admit surprise after the Cincinnati Bengals selected Clemson defensive tackle Brandon Thompson with their fifth selection during the 2012 NFL draft. It's not for his durability with an explosive first step, much stronger as a run defender than a pass rusher or the overall giddiness proudly projecting a defense that could be vastly improved over last year's unit that finished in the top-ten last year.
What was surprising was that Cincinnati drafted Thompson, when their selection two picks earlier was Penn State's Devon Still; though a better pass rusher, he's also strongest against the run. It's the, "It's not you, it's me" argument. It's not confusion, it's not disappointment. It's shockingly commonsensical, and we're not sure if we've ever approached a topic related to the Bengals defined as commonsensical. Actually we're fairly certain that we've never even used the word "commonsensical" before... ever.
Domata Peko, Geno Atkins and Pat Sims, a three-man rotation that's been around since the 2010 season, are plenty secure with their roles in 2012. No. We don't see anyone being released (more on that later). With the addition of Thompson and Still, the team's overall defensive tackle total to five (sixth if you include Nick Hayden); four of whom are stronger against the run than pure pass rushers, at least from predraft scouting reports we've read. And unless they blunder completely, there's no chance that Still or Thompson will be cut and we doubt they clear waivers for the team's practice squad.
Traditionally the Bengals have kept three defensive tackles, keeping in mind that they've traditionally shifted defensive ends inside as pass rushing tackles -- most notably Jonathan Fanene. But unlike those years, the Bengals haven't assembled such a group of defensive tackles like the potential this group exhibits. Plus it wouldn't be the first time that the Bengals named five defensive tackles on their 53-man roster. After final cuts a week before the 2008 regular season, the Bengals kept five defensive tackles -- Peko, Sims, John Thornton, Jason Shirley (before his move to the offense in 2009) and Michael Myers [Note: Bengals terminated Myers contract once they picked up Orien Harris off waivers]
|2011||3||Peko, Sims, Atkins|
|2010||4||Peko, Sims, Tank, Atkins|
|2009||3||Peko, Sims, Tank|
|2008||5||Peko, Sims, Thornton, Shirley, Myers (Harris)|
|2007||3||Peko, Thornton, Myers|
|2006||4||Peko, Thornton, Adams, Smith|
Is it outside the realm of possibility that Cincinnati keeps five defensive tackles? No. Have you seen this group they've put together? Peko, a double-team magnet (why his stats and film looks rather disappointing sometimes), Atkins, one of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles in the NFL and Sims, whose injury suddenly exposed a flaw in Cincinnati's rush defense, are being injected with younger talent, capable of a rotation that should result with fresher legs, renewed determination and competition based on a fear that relaxing during a single play could be answered with immediate demotion.
We love big guys. We love big guys with attitude, popping pads of the opposing offensive line, disrupting their timing and consuming their attention while Rey Maualuga, Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson roam free like predators within the Serengeti.
Having a defensive tackle roster suited against the run defines preemptive action within a division like the AFC North. The Baltimore Ravens offense depends entirely on Ray Rice, who has strung together his best performances against the Bengals in 2011, combining for 295 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Chances are that Cincinnati's losses against Baltimore reduces significantly if Rice is contained -- like the two wins during the 2009 season.
|January 1, 2012||Cincinnati||L, 16-24||24||191||2|
|November 20, 2011||Baltimore||L, 24-34||20||104||2|
|January 2, 2011||Baltimore||L, 7-13||20||77||1|
|September 19, 2010||Cincinnati||W, 15-10||16||87||0|
|November 8, 2009||Cincinnati||W, 17-7||12||48||1|
|October 11, 2009||Baltimore||W, 17-14||14||69||0|
Pittsburgh is different, no longer the bruising pad-popping, train-chucking offense that was at the height of the Jerome Bettis era. However Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, far less critical within Pittsburgh's predominately passing offense, still scored four rushing touchdowns against the Bengals last year.
|December 12, 2011||Pittsburgh||L, 7-35||16||60||2|
|November 13, 2011||Cincinnati||L, 17-24||16||44||2|
|December 12, 2010||Pittsburgh||L, 7-23||18||66||0|
|November 8, 2010||Cincinnati||L, 21-27||22||99||1|
Combined Rice and Mendenhall accounted for eight of the 12 rushing touchdowns allowed by the Bengals in 2011. And this year invited the best running back prospect in this year's draft with Trent Richardson in Cleveland.
So yes. In the end the Bengals drafting two defensive tackles was... commonsensical.