The Bengals have been receiving many accolades over the past couple of years for their draft philosophy and different approach in the front office. Though one could go back to the past five years as a track record for draft success, it's really the past three that have stood out the most.
In the 2012 draft, the Bengals showed foresight. They knew that they needed help at cornerback and offensive line, thus the investments in Dre Kirkpatrick and Kevin Zeitler in the first round. Then in the second and third rounds, the Bengals unexpectedly took two defensive tackles--a position at which they were stacked. Devon Still out of Penn State was a fringe first round player that the Bengals took late in the second and Thompson was slated to go much higher than the late-third spot that the Bengals snatched him up with.
Their rookie seasons were pretty much a redshirt campaign because of the depth in front of them. One rotational player that the Bengals relied on heavily on the defensive line was Pat Sims. The big run-stopper was working on a one-year deal last year, and with Still and Thompson set to have bigger roles in 2013, Sims signed a contract with the Oakland Raiders.
We've talked a number of times about the impact of Sims on the defense, with many have differing opinions. We presented some stats a while ago regarding Sims, and regardless of the opinion you have on Sims' impact, Thompson and Still have some big shoes to fill in an effort to keep the stout defense intact without losing a beat.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN:
- Thompson and Still need to stay healthy. Last year, these two had limited playing time early on because Sims was on the PUP List. With Sims out of the picture, both of these players will need to stay healthy this year. Even though they won't be supplanting Geno Atkins or Domata Peko as the starters, they will be asked to come in in a number of packages as substitutes.
- The Bengals' coaching staff needs to use Still and Thompson to their strengths. Both second-year defensive tackles are different players who play two different tackle positions. Though he's taller than Atkins, Still will be backing up his spot and is a bit more of a pass-rushing tackle. He has the ability to penetrate against the run, but his initial role will likely be in obvious passing situations. Thompson, on the other hand, will be asked to be more of a Sims-like player. The Bengals will need him to be stout against the run as Sims was in his time in Cincinnati.
- The Bengals coaching staff needs to have faith in the young, unproven tackles. Marvin Lewis and his staff have been hit-and-miss with their confidence in young players. Though they have given the reigns of the team right away to guys like Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, we've seen guys like Atkins and Carlos Dunlap bide their time. The fact is that this is the time for Still and Thompson to crack the lineup and contribute. The staff appears to have taken the first step of showing faith in these two by letting Sims walk, but the proof will be in the playing time.
We expect to see Still and Thompson get time at rotational guys as the season commences, but the amount of time will likely increase as the weeks roll on. Last year, the defense got off to a slow start and many attributed that to Sims' absence in the run game, along with other new parts getting acclimated. The hope is that Still and Thompson are quick learners and the team won't be plagued by the same slow start in 2013. Put these two into scenarios where they can play to their respective strengths and we could even see some improvement from an already formidable defensive front.