Reviewing the game from Saturday against the Bills, I didn't note anything spectacular from our linebackers. At the same time, they're close to being at regular season form. Rey Maualuga made several nice plays, blitzing off the edges during run plays with solid pass coverage when he slide over as the middle linebacker. Still, his over-aggressiveness tends to show, overshooting tackles and lanes. Keith Rivers, as aggressive as I've ever seen him, I swear to god is literally looking to murder ball carriers -- even though he was only credited with an assist against Buffalo, he was seemed to be near the football more times than not, even disrupting the point of attack. Rivers has seven tackles through four preseason games. Dhani Jones was seen struggling in pass coverage -- how dare he not keep up with speedy wide receivers. Jones only has five preseason tackles.
Brandon Johnson and Roddrick Muckelroy each finished with five tackles against Buffalo, leading the team with Kyries Hebert. Rashad Jeanty is most likely going to miss the first six weeks of the regular season, being left on the Physically Unable to Perform list. He'll factor into the roster once the time comes.
So projecting the team's linebacker roster will be one of numbers. The team has taken as few as six linebackers and as many as eight during the Marvin Lewis era. The locks: Jones, Maualuga, Rivers, Brandon Johnson, Michael Johnson.
The sixth backer? Dan Skuta? Not only is he a quality player on special teams, he could play the role of two-way player, filling some time in as a fullback, considering Fui Vakapuna still hasn't played in the preseason. Geoff Hobson writes:
Even though he hasn’t played in the last two games, it looks like linebacker/fullback Dan Skuta (ankle) is going to make it. Look for him to play in Indy. That would give them six backers with Skuta and Brandon and Michael Johnson backing up. Is that all they’re going to keep now that they have to keep an extra running back with the Brian Leonard injury? That still leaves guys like veteran special-teamer Abdul Hodge and a fourth-round pick, Muckelroy, outside looking in.
Hodge's 2009 season was the most productive in his career, recording 11 special teams tackles (which ranked fourth on the team) and eight tackles on defense. Skuta only played in eight games, recording 10 special teams tackles ranking fifth on the team. And you can not discount his versatility as a fullback.
The question remaining is rookie Roddrick Muckelroy, the Bengals fourth round pick from Texas. After playing outside linebacker in 2008, Muckelroy slide over as a middle linebacker in 2009 -- a span in which he led the Longhorns in tackles in both seasons, leading the defense of a team that finished with a combined 25-2 record.
If the Bengals take six, whose your sixth linebacker?