It wasn't as bad as 2007.
For those of you that don't remember that season, it was an awful year for Bengals linebackers. It began with Ahmad Brooks at middle linebacker (talk about miscalculating his talents) with Rashad Jeanty at SAM and Landon Johnson at WILL. Caleb Miller, Lemar Marshall and Andre Frazier completed a linebacker roster that was missing i superstars from the 2005 draft class.
Odell Thurman remained on suspension and David Pollak stayed on the Physically Unable to Perform list (before his eventual retirement) and (the great experiment) Eric Henderson had already landed on Injured Reserve. By December, Marshall, Miller and Brooks were placed on season-ending Injured Reserve and the team incorporated intriguing changes. Jeanty remained at SAM, Johnson moved to middle linebacker and the recently signed Dhani Jones played WILL. Over the prior two months, the team also acquired Anthony Schlegel, Corey Mays, Roy Manning and Jim Maxwell.
1) Not as back as '07, but there was an impact
Trivia time. If you have a pro bowl linebacker that leads the lead in tackles in 2013 with three sacks, an interception and a fumble returned for a touchdown, you will:
a) have a defense that declines
b) have a defense that REALLY declines
c) pray that Andy Dalton can bail out the defense
d) all of the above
Vontaze Burfict missed 11 games in 2014 with a concussion, a neck injury and then a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery. His rehabilitation went much slower than expected and he was eventually placed on season-ending Injured Reserve. Rey Maualuga missed missed four games with a severe hamstring injury and Emmanuel Lamur missed two games. Combined, the team's expected starting linebackers missed 17 games this season.
It's really not surprising when you consider that Cincinnati's defense ranked 20th or worse in total defense, passing and rushing while missing most of the starting lineup at linebacker.
2) The question is proposed... do you re-sign Rey Maualuga?
We asked earlier this week if the Bengals should re-sign Rey Maualuga. Don't consider the money part. Just answer the generic query... Do you want Maualuga back?
Days after publishing that post, it remains unfathomable to me that anyone would strut around Cincinnati thinking that Maualuga is irreplaceable. Alright, I get it -- and agree. Cincinnati's generic effort to sign free agents for the sole purpose of finding a starter is nonexistent... and laughable. Draft. Re-sign your own. Sign players a week or two after free agency to bolster the depth. That's the philosophy. That's the end game. That's what they do.
In fact, if we're putting our mythical chips on the table, the Bengals are more than likely to re-sign Maualuga. We're doubling down on that bet.
3) Is there lingering affects with Vontaze Burfict?
We've never had it easy as Bengals fans. Bengals players that sign long-term extensions seem to have it worse. Everyone recalls Carson Palmer's knee tear in the 2005 Wild Card game, within two weeks after signing a long-term extension. Geno Atkins signs a long-term extension and suffers an ACL tear months later. Vontaze Burfict signed a four-year extension this year and missed 11 games.
Now Burfict is planning (or has already had) offseason surgery to further repair whatever wasn't fixed during his first knee surgery.
You're concerned. So am I. This could be the greatest offseason question (that has nothing to do with Andy Dalton) for the next eight months.
4) The draft isn't helping one bit
Consider for a moment the top-four linebackers on Cincinnati's roster. Three of them were undrafted free agents (including Vincent Rey) and the one who was drafted, Rey Maualuga, was selected in the 2009 NFL draft -- nearly six years ago.
There's Sean Porter, a former fourth-rounder from the 2013 NFL draft, who suffered a torn labrum in training camp and missed his entire rookie season. He missed three preseason games and the first three regular season games earlier this year before making his NFL debut against the New England Patriots in Week 5. He suffered a season-ending injury on the game's opening kickoff. Porter, who played 52 games in four seasons at Texas A&M, has played one game in his NFL career since being drafted in 2013. It's just a story of tough luck.
Marquis Flowers, a former sixth-round in the 2014 NFL draft, hasn't faced the injury bug, but also hasn't made that much of an impact... Despite the level of injuries that have hit this team. Flowers played 71 defensive snaps this year, with 56 combined against the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.
It doesn't matter how you get your players... as long as you get the players that help. Unfortunately the draft hasn't been much of an assist at linebacker, has it?