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Where Does Michigan Cornerback Morgan Trent Fit in the Cincinnati Bengals secondary?

My first reaction when the Bengals selected University of Michigan cornerback Morgan Trent was, "what?" Admittedly my Wolverines exposure was limited to when the Buckeyes or Bearcats weren't playing. Even then, it was secondary when the SEC game of the week was on, plus the exciting Big 12 match-ups. Ohio bias aside, it wasn't very rewarding to watch a 3-9 Michigan squad.

From a Bengals perspective, they were looking to upgrade their secondary depth with possibly a nickel back, or a third safety to cover deep. "Trent always had good speed," Dave from Maize N Brew said, "but he never really turned into the lock down corner we hoped he'd be." However, Dave also admits that "it's really hard to judge how good he was last year because of the defensive nightmare at DC and just how bad Michigan's deep safety play was."

Speed was likely the determining factor for Cincinnati, hoping to find a guy that plays center field, making sure that there's always someone positioned in front of opposing receivers. Plus you have to ask, can he cover third-string receivers? "He'll have no problem keeping up with straight line WRs," said Dave. The biggest concern for Trent could be the level of talent by the league's receivers, not their speed. "Where he struggles is on double moves," said the Michigan blogger. "He has a tendency to commit early, drop the hips out of the back pedal to soon, and then tangle himself up when he figures out what's going on."

Even though there's questions about Trent, it would seem that he fits the mold of what Mike Zimmer was looking for. Earlier in the off-season Zimmer was quoted as saying:

"Everybody in the NFL is looking for cover safeties," Zimmer said. "You're playing three and four receivers, and tight ends that can run. So what's wrong with playing three corners and a safety? We're not really a Cover 2 team, but a Cover 2 corner might fit for us as a free safety."

The key here is that the Bengals want to improve against big plays on the passing defense -- even though they only allowed seven 40-yard plus receptions (t-13th) and 33 20-yard receptions (t-2nd). This will only be assisted with a quality pass rush. With Michael Johnson drafted in the third round, the acquisition of Tank Johnson along with a healthy Antwan Odom and Robert Geathers, Zimmer appears to be getting more aggressive in 2009.

Also consider this. Even with 17 quarterback sacks, the Bengals finished 2008 with the league's 15th best passing defense. A staggering thought when you think about it. It means that the Bengals secondary, not helped by a quarterback that sat in the pocket unmolested, allowed only 205.4 yards passing a game. Some teams don't show that same result. For instance, the New York Jets' 41 quarterback sacks ranked seventh in the league. Their 234.5 passing yards allowed per game ranked 29th. This suggests that their secondary is vulnerable, whereas the Bengals secondary is quietly becoming a hellva unit. So if you improve the league's 31st best quarterback rushing defense with the 15th best passing defense, you can only imagine how far the Bengals will grow on defense.

With all that said, where does Trent fit into the defense? Obviously he's not going to compete with Leon Hall or Johnathan Joseph for starting time. However, is he an improvement over David Jones, Geoffrey Pope, Simeon Castille? That's the question to be answered in training camp. And if he is, then it's a good selection.

Here's more quotes by the very detailed Dave from Maize N Brew.

"Tackling this year for Trent was kinda a mixed bag. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because Michigan as a Team really struggled wrapping people up and I'm betting at least 40-50% of that was coaching. A year prior this team could wrap people up. Last year, they couldn't wrap ANYONE up. I've seen Trent blow people up, make solid tackles, and whiff on a few. I think he's plenty strong and will be a solid tackler once his technique gets sorted out.

"You'll hear some criticism of Trent's run support, but I'm not sure how much of that was Michigan's inability to implement then-DC Scot Schafer's system and how much of it was taking the wrong angle. Trent was usually pretty good at shedding blocks to get to the tailback. I saw a couple of plays this year where it looked like he was just completely out of position for long runs, but in hindsight, if he was responsible for the area the RB sprinted through that he would've been soooo out of position during those plays that there's no way he would've seen the field again. Like I said, things were so bad at safety I really can't tell you whether Trent missed something or not.

"Take any criticism with a grain of salt. Trent's a really good kid. A hard worker. And he's really, really fast. There was never a whiff of trouble from him, and I got the impression his teammates liked the guy. I think his raw athleticism makes him a great chance to take at the 6th round level. Going in to last year he was a fairly highly rated DB based on his junior year. A bad year shouldn't erase the fact he showed a lot of promise prior to a coaching change and the implementation of a really, really awful defensive system."