I've grown weary of the whole, move-defensive-end-to-outside-linebacker-as-defensive-hybrid experiment. When the team started talking about shifting Michael Johnson from a three-point stance on the end to an outside linebacker (based on the down and situation), flashes of every failed move-player-away-from-natural-position experiment during the Marvin Lewis era flooded my mind. Then again, I should dissolve those thoughts, remove those memories because, after all, it's Mike "fricking" Zimmer.
In an article that pushes the idea that the Bengals could throw more 3-4 defensive alignments this year, Zimmer expresses absolute joy with Michael Johnson's progress.
"I really, really like him just as a football player. He's improved tremendously. He's doing some terrific things. I'm expecting him to have a dang good year," Zimmer said.
After working Johnson with the linebackers all spring, Zimmer calls Johnson's pass coverage "excellent," and doesn't stop at playing him at SAM on first down or rush end on third down. He believes Johnson could play end on first down as well as play the other two backer spots.
That allows the Bengals to disrupt pass protections by alignment.
"It puts five linemen on the field and the offense has to decide if they're going to block him with a back or a tackle," Zimmer said. "That's five-on-five. And that opens it up for people beyond that."
I know what you're thinking. Like Zimmer really said "dang". Michael Johnson. Could he be the elite defensive playmaker we've sought for so long? Could he be the disrupter? The newest AFC North evil conqueror of the offense? Could Josh be a bit more dramatic? The Bengals haven't had a defensive player that opposing teams have had to game plan against in some time. Robert Geathers and Antwan Odom may have garnered some attention during their respective career-years with the Bengals. Aside from that, which defensive player on the front seven during the Marvin Lewis era would you point to that opposing teams definitely had to game plan against?