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Howard: It All Starts on the D-Line

If the Bengals are going to be successful in 2011, they'll not only need a semi-functional offense and an impressive performance from Andy Dalton, but they're going to need a resurgence of the Bengals 2009 top-five defense.

That's not out of the realm of possibility either. With Rey Maualuga's transition to middle linebacker, additional depth at the outside linebacker positions, pass rushers Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap coming into their second  years and more depth in the secondary, they could dominate on defense despite the loss of Johnathan Joseph.

One of those added outside linebackers in Thomas Howard and he believes that the defense's strongest unit is the four guys who will be playing in front of him on the defensive line.

"Our defensive line is really where it all starts," said Howard who just turned 28 himself and already has 55 starts. "They're a phenomenal bunch. They're like a young veteran bunch. There's no one over 30. Everyone has NFL experience. I'm excited to play behind these guys. They'll be the backbone of this defense hands down. That's where it all starts in my opinion.

"They take the job seriously. They come to work every day and they work hard to get after it."

Even though Colt McCoy looked impressive during the preseason, the Browns will likely rely heavily on Peyton Hillis and the running game. It will be a good test for the Bengals defense's front-seven, especially the defensive line. When McCoy does drop back to pass, I would love nothing more but to see Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins in the backfield with him. 

Under the leadership of Domata Peko, Atkins, Pat Sims and ends Johnson, Dunlap and Robert Geathers could have a huge year. Here's to hoping they get started on the right foot on Sunday.