Vontaze Burfict: Currently rehabilitating his knee after undergoing microfracture surgery in January. It's possible that he returns to his old form and will be ready for training camp -- but everyone's suspicious of that and has placed that scenario under the "best case" file. Remember that when he had arthroscopic knee surgery in October, he was only expected to sit out for two games. He was done for the season.
Rey Maualuga: Signed a three-year deal worth $15 million in early March -- with $7.3 million paid during the first year of the deal. Maualuga is expected to be the team's starting middle linebacker.
Emmanuel Lamur: Cincinnati placed the second-round tender on Emmanuel Lamur, who will receive $2.356 million in compensation. If another team signs Lamur to an offer sheet and the Bengals refuse, that team will give Cincinnati a second-round pick as compensation. Not even a four-year old boy in North Korea thinks that will happen.
Bengals Must Reads
Vontaze Burfict Status Update
Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict underwent microfracture surgery in January. The former pro bowler is in California and when his knee gets stronger, he'll make his way to Cincinnati to continue rehabilitation efforts.
Bengals Must Reads
"BEST CASE SCENARIO": When the Bengals open the season in mid-September, the best case scenario has Burfict, Lamur and Maualuga starting.
A.J. Hawk: Signed a two-year deal on Tuesday, giving Cincinnati a quality backup linebacker who can play all three positions in Cincinnati's base 4-3 defense. Hawk is believed to be the primary backup if Burfict's recovery from microfracture surgery is delayed.
Vincent Rey: A trustworthy backup player who answers the call when Cincinnati's linebackers drop with injuries. Would we call him starter material? No. Is he a guy that you want on your roster to enhance special teams and keep stability on the depth chart? Yes.
Marquis Flowers: Selected in the sixth-round of the 2014 NFL draft as a former safety-turned-linebacker at the University of Arizona, Flowers played every game during his rookie season. He recorded five tackles on defense and three on special teams -- and started one game. Flowers also generated a quarterback hit and a near-interception of Joe Flacco in October.
Sean Porter: Unfortunately, injuries have derailed his opportunity. It began with a torn labrum during training camp during his rookie season, forcing him onto season-ending Injured Reserve. A hamstring placed him on the inactive list for three preseason games in 2014 and when he made his NFL debut at New England, he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Porter was a fine talent in college and that may translate into the NFL, but I'm not seeing a future in Cincinnati at this point (in March).
Jayson DiManche: Quality special teams player who finished second on the team with 12 special teams tackles in 2013 - he was the guy that blocked a punt against Cleveland that led to a Tony Dye touchdown. DiManche made one start last year (against the Indianapolis Colts) but then was lost for the season after suffering a forearm fracture against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Nico Johnson: Signed a two-year deal with Cincinnati last October and made two starts at middle linebacker when Rey Maualuga went down with a hamstring injury. Johnson has been dealing with a sports hernia since his senior season at Alabama, significantly impacting his growth/development at the NFL level.
The Rest: Chris Carter, L.J. Fort
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART IF THE SEASON STARTS TODAY
MLB: Rey Maualuga, Vincent Rey
WILL: Vontaze Burfict, A.J. Hawk
SAM: Emmanuel Lamur, Marquis Flowers
There are two more elements:
1) You could swap the backup roles at MLB and WILL (placing Vincent Rey as the backup WILL and A.J. Hawk as the backup MIKE). The way that Cincinnati uses their linebackers, the positional roles are meaningless within a 4-3 alignment.
2) We're not closing the door on the team drafting another linebacker, which would obviously upset any roster and depth chart projections in March.