On Monday the Bengals finally addressed the two coaching vacancies on their staff. They announced that Paul Guenther is going to be promoted to linebackers coach and that Mark Carrier has been hired as the new defensive backs coach. Both moves help solidify the coaching staff and will allow the Bengals to move forward as they prepare for next season.
Guenther isn't all that new with the system. He's been with the Bengals since 2005. From 2006-2010 he was an assistant special teams coach. During those five seasons he was also an assistant for linebackers. And last season he was an assistant for defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle. Now it's time for Guenther to show what he can do with the linebackers.
"We want the three best guys on the field at the same time. It doesn't matter if he's a Mike, a SAM, or a WILL. In my mind, it's the best linebacker. It's not like the positions are all that different. The techniques are pretty much the same," Guenther said.
Guenther is already familiar with most of the current group of linebackers and he will be aiming to get the most out of them in every game during the 2012 season. The success of the linebackers will play a large role in how the Bengals defense performs as a whole. Right now the Bengals have a solid group of linebackers heading into next season. However, there are questions surrounding some that will be expected to contribute next season.
Thomas Howard is going to be a lock to start. He was brought in as a free agent and solidified his role as weakside linebacker during 2011 with a solid comeback season. He compiled 99 tackles along with one sack as well as forcing two fumbles last season. Brandon Johnson and Manny Lawson are slated to hit free agency in a month which could put a damper on the Bengals linebacker situation if either of them depart. Both played significant roles last season.
Keith Rivers' status for 2012 remains an enigma. The Bengals will possibly be faced with a tough decision regarding the former first-round pick. During his career Rivers has missed a total of 29 games, including all of last season due to a wrist injury.
"When you pick those guys high in the draft, you've got to make sure they perform, particularly linebackers because they play both the run and the pass," Guenther said. "I'm excited about getting those guys to flourish where we drafted them. It's something we're going to look at in the offseason."
The Bengals will possibly be faced with a tough decision regarding the former first-round pick. During his career Rivers has missed a total of 29 games, including all of last season due to a wrist injury. But from Guenther's comments it sounds as if Rivers is expected to be with the team next year. But a lot can change between now and September. If Rivers can stay healthy then he's capable of being a productive linebacker and there's nothing wrong with having an overabundance of useful linebackers.
As for Rey Maualuga he remains the biggest question mark heading into 2012. He could be facing a suspension due to his recent misdemeanor assault charges after punching a bar employee at a bar in downtown Cincinnati. But when Maualuga played this season he did an adequate job. Despite some inconsistencies in his play, he still put up solid numbers.
"I thought he did a heck of a job handling all the checks and the calls and making the adjustments for what Dhani did," Guenther said. "We've just got to get him to play better."
This upcoming season is going to be a vital one for Maualuga as he needs to prove that he can perform at a high level on a weekly basis. He needs to put his off field issues behind him and focus on his game. He had a bigger role last season, but he didn't excel in that role. He's going to need to mature in order to enhance his abilities on the field and improve as a player.
Next season should be interesting for the Bengals. They have a new coach at linebacker in Paul Guenther, but at the same time he isn't new to the system since he's been with the team since 2005. If Guenther is able to maximize the efforts from the linebacker group then the Bengals should have a productive year from the defense.