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Top-20 Bengals Players Of 2012: No. 5 Linebacker Thomas Howard

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CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 02:  Thomas Howard #53 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates after the 23-20 victory against the Buffalo Bills at Paul Brown Stadium on October 2, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 02: Thomas Howard #53 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates after the 23-20 victory against the Buffalo Bills at Paul Brown Stadium on October 2, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Keith Rivers showed up to training camp last year with a cast on his wrist. Roddrick Muckelroy suffered an Achilles injury during the first practice of training camp. It wasn't a good start for Bengals linebackers and the team, simply put, needed a break (pun not intended). So the organization looked at available free agents before loving eyes with sappy Bryan Adams songs fell upon former Oakland Raiders linebacker Thomas Howard.

Cincinnati signed Howard to a two-year deal worth $6.5 million on July 30. A perfect match. For his part, Howard went from a seldom-used backup player into one of Cincinnati's best linebackers, generating a team-high 120 tackles, quarterback sack and two forced fumbles. Additionally he was the team's highest-rated coverage linebacker by Pro Football Focus last season.

Barring unforeseen injuries, Howard is expected to start as the team's starting weakside linebacker (as well as most five-plus defensive back formations) this season.