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Carlos Dunlap to Start in 2011

Assuming, of course, that there's a 2011 NFL season, Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap will assuming a starting role this fall, according to Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes.

"Right now, the biggest thing he's going to have to do is, with the production he had, I know everyone's going to say, 'Hey, he's got to play every play,' so now he's got to transition from being a part-time player to a full-time player," Hayes told PFW at the Senior Bowl. "And that's going to be the issue. Can he go out there and play those types of numbers of plays going from 250 plays during the season to 700-and-some plays and do the things that he's still done and more?"

Dunlap, the team's second-round pick last April, notched 9.5 sacks in the last eight games, after spending the first half of the season largely on the sideline. Head coach Marvin Lewis and his staff were under fire by the end of the season for not playing him earlier, a decision they chalked up to Dunlap not practicing well. Hayes brought that point up again, saying he needs to show more of his run-stopping skills in drills.

Of playing the run, Hayes noted, "(He) does it pretty consistently when he's in the games, but he needs to be able to work it during the week so there's no doubt that he'll do it right. And that's where we always had the rub with him — 'Well, if we put him in on run downs, what's going to happen?'

Hayes did say that Dunlap was getting better, so I don't think the practice performance will continue to be an issue. But I'm a little leery of giving him so many snaps in light of what happened to DE Robert Geathers, who had one outstanding season, was made a starter, and has never had the same kind of double-digit-sacks season again. I'm a big fan of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," school of thought, so while Dunlap has certainly earned his shot, I hope they are ready to dial back his snaps if his ability to get to the QB slips.

But let's end on an up note -- a prediction for the number of sacks by Carlos Dunlap as a starter in 2011: 23.