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Zimmer: Linebacker Thomas Howard To Play Weak-Side And Nickel

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According to the Bengals defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer, outside linebacker Thomas Howard is expected to start his career as the weakside outside linebacker while also playing in nickel formations; much like the role that free agent linebacker Brandon Johnson had in 2008 when he subbed for an injured Keith Rivers.

Howard, entering his sixth season in the NFL, signed a two-year deal worth $6.5 million on Thursday. The resident weakside linebacker, Keith Rivers, had a procedure done that was described as "rebuilding of his wrist" at some point during the offseason. Speculation is that he could miss a good portion of the first half of the 2011 season. Rivers was placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury List Friday, which means he won't count as a roster spot against the roster until he's medically cleared and practicing.

Howard averaged over 100 tackles during his first three season with the Oakland Raiders and during the 2007 season, the outside linebacker posted six interceptions and two touchdowns.

Though this doesn't mean Howard is the starter. That's an open competition right now.

"I'm looking for guys that can come in and start and whoever wins the job, wins the job," Zimmer said. "If they can start I assume they can play special teams. I'm not looking for special teams guys that can't play defense. That's always been a pet peeve of mine."

Howard isn't able to practice until August 4 when the new league year begins.