Safety And Linebacker Remain Biggest Question Marks For The Bengals

USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals attempted to address safety and linebacker during the offseason, but questions remain.

After printing out a projected depth chart for the Cincinnati Bengals, it's not difficult to find the "needs" or positions that remain "questionable".

Despite selecting Shawn Williams in the third-round of the 2013 NFL draft, safety remains a significant question mark. Williams is a rookie and though prognosticators could apply faith for projected successes as a rookie, it's equally as probable that Williams just isn't ready. Behind him would be Taylor Mays, Jeromy Miles and a collection of safeties that haven't proven to be capable to sustain reliable contributions on defense.

Linebacker is another, writes Rob Weintraub with Football Outsiders (via ESPN In$ider):

Between James Harrison and fourth-round pick Sean Porter, the Bengals hope to get by on the strong side. Rey Maualuga returned after a cold free-agent market, and Cincinnati hopes he gets it together in the middle now that any thought of moving last year's rookie sensation Vontaze Burfict inside has been nixed. Maualuga is a heavy hitter but remains a two-down linebacker who is unreliable in coverage and often a step slow to fill gaps in the run game.

It's also a risk to rely on Harrison's "intensity and anger", writes Weintraub, "given his age and diminished skills."

The Bengals are also taking a risk at strong safety, where they are hoping a rookie, third-round draft choice Shawn Williams out of Georgia, can step in immediately. Williams was a productive and fiery leader at UGA, where he notably called out his underperforming teammates at midseason. The Bengals have had great success with players from UGA, but asking Williams to start and play well might be as foolishly optimistic as hoping Harrison rekindles his 2008 form.

Cincinnati made a decent effort to upgrade both positions through free agency and the NFL draft. However there's still a belief that the Bengals will bring Thomas Howard back, who is rehabilitating an injured knee. Chris Crocker is now the new-age Roger Clemens story, avoiding training camp and waiting for the Bengals to reach out early during the regular season. Just wait.

On the other hand, the Bengals only need Harrison for one more year, devising a game-plan to rebuilding the position either with younger options on the roster, new year's NFL draft or free agency. He's not a long-term solution... at all. And who's to say Williams doesn't pick everything up on day one?

But that's the point of question marks. Much remains unknown until the players put cleats on the field.

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