Larry Black (2013 rookie free agent Indiana)
Terrence Stephens (2013 rookie free agent Stanford)
Pat Sims (Raiders)
STATISTICS FROM 2012
The Bengals defensive front was a force last season, led in part by one of the league's top defensive tackles in Geno Atkins. Last season Atkins recorded 12.5 sacks, 13 quarterback hits, 53 hurries and 47 stops, easily ranking him as the most dominant defensive tackle currently in the game. Paired with Atkins was a rotation of Domata Peko, Devon Still and Pat Sims (Sims returned from injury in week 10). This rotation provided the Bengals with fresh legs to give Cincinnati the best opportunity to stop the run and get after the quarterback from the interior.
Grading out as the best defensive tackles in the league, Atkins was a force in stopping the run but even scarier bulldozing his way to the quarterback. Second in franchise history with most sacks in a season, Atkins was the type of player in 2012 that changed (even dominated) a game.
Domata Peko was an iron man last season, being one of only 10 Bengals that started every game. Even though he's a one-technique defensive tackle, Peko led the defensive line with 80 tackles -- it's the fourth time in five years he's accomplished that ranking. He also notched two quarterback sacks. In 2011, Peko ranked 4th on the team with 91 tackles. [NOTE: Tackle numbers are from the Bengals]
Devon Still and Brandon Thompson are slated to fill the shoes of the departing Pat Sims. Both played sparingly last season but many believe that the combination will serviceably replace Sims.
The rookies Larry Black and Terrence Stephens are new talents that the Bengals are checking out (at the very least). Neither were drafted and both are strong players with decent production at their respective schools. Black had an interesting college career with his strongest showing during his red shirt freshman year but then failing to make the leap after that. Stephens was a role player at Stanford who would fill gaps to enable the players around him to make plays. This could be the type of player the Bengals would want to have in a rotation.
Expectations are high for this unit of the defense. This was the anchor of a team that finished 3rd in the NFL for team sacks last season and Bengals fans are looking for the same type of output this year. Look for Mike Zimmer to continue to use the strength of the guys up front to set the done for the game. By continuing to pressure the opposing teams quarterback, the secondary has a shorter amount of time to cover thus making the whole unit better.
The question remains if the Bengals will keep six defensive tackles. Last season the Bengals carried five through the season and many think that was because of the injury issues (note: Sims was a PUP member and didn't count against the 53-man roster during the first half of the season). There is a strong possibility with two undrafted rookies coming in that some real talent gets cut at this position. I am anxious to see if either of the rookies turn into a gem like other free agent talents the Bengals have managed to sign and build.