When it comes to the defensive end position, the Bengals and every Bengals fan are completely focused on one guy and one guy alone: Michael Johnson. Why shouldn't they be? Johnson finished the 2012 season with 11.5 sacks, the second most after Geno Atkins, and proved that he has what it takes to be a great pass rusher from the defensive end position. The NFL is a passing league and a team's ability to rush the passer is just as important as it's ability to move the ball down the field. Johnson is on the front of the Bengals' mind for good reason.
However, another player that the Bengals should be focusing on is backup defensive end Wallace Gilberry. Gilberry signed with the team on Sept. 18 and finished the 2012 season with 6.5 sacks, a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries, including one which he ran back 25 yards for a touchdown. Gilberry's 6.5 sacks put him in third place on the team when it came to pressuring the quarterback as fellow defensive end Carlos Dunlap finished the season with six.
As of right now, the Bengals have two defensive ends under contract for the upcoming season: Dunlap and Jamaal Anderson. Johnson, Gilberry and Robert Geathers. They had Derrick Harvey under contract, but released him not long after they signed him. Not only do they need to re-sign Johnson, but they'd be smart to re-sign Gilberry to a multi-year deal as well.
In a recent interview with Studio10 near Gilberry's home town, he stated that not only is he interested in returning to the Bengals, but that they're interested in keeping him around.
"Cincinnati's definitely interested," Gilberry said. "And I'm definitely interested in Cincinnati. Hopefully my agent can work out the legitimates and have me back in that No. 95 Bengals jersey."
Let's pretend for a minute that the Bengals decide not to re-sign Geathers. If they don't, and even if they do re-sign Johnson, they're still left with only Johnson, Dunlap and Anderson. Dunlap has only started two games in his career -- one in 2012 and one in 2011 -- and has failed to make it through a season without missing a few games so far in his career. The fact that the Bengals felt more comfortable starting Geathers than Dunlap seems to show that Dunlap struggles to defend against the run. If that's the case, then the Bengals will want Gilberry to help solidify the defensive line's run defense. Gilberry was better as a run defender than a pass rusher, according to the guys at Pro Football Focus, with a run defense score of 2.8 and a pass rush score of -1.0.
Then let's pretend that the Bengals decide to re-sign Geathers. Re-signing Gilberry still makes sense as it would keep the depth on the defensive line intact. The depth of the defense line has been the strength of the defense and the team over the last two seasons and the last thing the team should want to do is damage it by letting a good player walk. And of course, there's always the possibility of a season-ending injury that could cause an even greater need to have Gilberry around.
Gilberry proved his worth in 2012, not only as a run defender but a pass rusher as well. Keeping good players when they become free agents is something that good teams do. Re-signing Gilberry obviously isn't as important as re-signing Johnson, Andre Smith or guys like Adam Jones, Terence Newman or Thomas Howard, but if they're able to get a deal done, there's no reason not to make it happen.
Gilberry has been fighting an uphill battle since his entrance into the league as an undrafted rookie free agent. He was out to change that heading into the 2012 season, though.
"I was sick of people doubting me," he said in the interview. "Sick of people not believing in me. Sick of people labeling me. I made up my mind and my body that I'm going to go out here and I'm going to prove them wrong."
What do you think, Bengals fans? Did he prove you wrong to the point that you'd like to see him stick around?