The Bengals are stacked with linebackers. Quality linebackers, that is. Even though Dhani Jones was mentioned in Football Outsider's newest stat, missed tackles and percentage of missed tackles, Jones still recorded 142 tackles, which led the team by a whooping 41 stops. No one else recorded more fumble recoveries (two) nor did anyone else along the front seven record more pass deflections (six). Keith Rivers, also recording a sack and an interception, was the only other Bengals defender that finished with more than 100 tackles last season. Rey Maualuga (80) and Brandon Johnson (67) round out a very strong four-man linebacking crew; both of whom have a higher ceiling of play-making potential.
Rashad Jeanty slid over as the team's starting outside linebacker when Maualuga went down to injury late in the season, also led the Bengals with 14 special teams tackles. Dan Skuta and Abdul Hodge also made their greatest impact on special teams, making 10 and 11 tackles respectively.
However, it also appears that the Bengals are looking to play a base 4-3 defense with 3-4 philosophies, such as playing Maualuga alongside Jones as middle linebackers and Michael Johnson standing in a two-point stance as the strong-side outside linebacker. And Bengals linebacker coach Jeff FitzGerald is impressed enough with Johnson's ceiling that he sees good things.
“There is no sort of inhibitor in his game. There’s enough there that good things can happen,” FitzGerald said. “When he gets used to all the facets of the position. I see a lot of good things with him.”
With Johnson potentially blitzing off the edge, it could free up guys like Robert Geathers, Antwan Odom or Carlos Dunlap, lining up opposite of where Johnson is simply because the focus will be on where Johnson could come from. Yes, I'm getting ahead of myself. But that potential suddenly has me laughing like a little giddy schoolgirl.