NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 06: Matt Hasselbeck #8 of the Tennessee Titans is sacked by Carlos Dunlap #96 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the NFL game at LP Field on November 6, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap will be entering his third year in the NFL. He's not known around the league as one of the best defensive ends in the game, but he's shown flashes that he can be. At the end of his rookie year, he strung together 8.5 sacks through six games. Bengals fans were ready for a sophomore breakout from Dunlap, and he certainly brought the pressure through the first half of the season. In fact, as CBSSports.com's Paul Dehner Jr. points out, extrapolating Dunlap's stats from his healthy first half of 2011 would place him second in the league in total sacks, hits, and hurries.
But, it all crashed down when Dunlap strained his hamstring in week nine. Dunlap wasn't healthy for the next five games, and the Bengals went 1-4 across that span.
This year, Dunlap is looking to stay healthy, and his goal is to post the highest sack total in the league.
"In order to be considered amongst the best -- which is my personal goal as far as being an athlete in anything -- you have to compete and do what the best have done," said Dunlap, who only started one game and took less than 50 percent of the available snaps. "I haven't done that yet. I have to break 10 (sacks) and compete and stay up there with whoever has the highest number and I want to be the highest number."
Though it's going to be hard to do, it's certainly within Dunlap's capabilities to lead the league in sacks in 2012. Can't blame him for setting high goals.
Dehner also reports that Dunlap has changed his diet in the offseason, done more offseason training, and "picked the brains of league veterans trying to eliminate the injuries." Dunlap may have been dealing with effort issues early in his rookie season, and it seems he's eliminated that maturity problem entirely. In training camp this year, incumbent starter Robert Geathers has been sidelined with a knee injury, and Dunlap has been taking advantage of seeing first team snaps.
With everything coming together, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer thinks Dunlap is "finally turning the page":
"Carlos needed to grow up," Zimmer said. "That was his No. 1 thing. He is a tremendous athlete, probably the best athlete we have defensively. I think he's finally turning the page. When he does, and if he does, then there's going to be a lot of tackles in the league who are going to be sweating. Until then, he might be seven good plays and three bad plays. We’ve got to get him to that point where he’s doing what he needs to do all of the time."
Dunlap clearly has the potential, but he still has a few things to work on before he can be considered one of the best defensive ends in the league. He needs to improve upon his run defense, consistency, and he needs to stay healthy.