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Bengals free agency seems to mostly address run defense

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The Cincinnati Bengals are notorious for signing players that they're familiar with and it's become the theme for free agency this year, re-signing some departed third rounders for a second tour in Cincinnati.

Fernando Medina-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, the band is back together.

Defensive end Michael Johnson, cornerback Brandon Ghee and defensive tackle Pat Sims have re-signed over the past two weeks, returning to the birthplace of their NFL careers. Johnson, drafted in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft, eventually replaced Antwan Odom while Brandon Ghee, drafted in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft, felt like a worthless pick... but not because it was his fault; recurring injuries have taken a Bono-sized dump on his NFL dream.

Then there's Pat Sims, also drafted in the third round (2008), who was a regular on the defensive line for five seasons ('08-12). "Pat was a good player for us here and we think he can fill a role for us this year," said Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes. "He lends a physical dimension. He’s a very aggressive run player, and we're happy to have him back."

What's with the third-round picks returning to Cincinnati anyway? Circumstance? Johnson couldn't make it work in another city and returned to his second-home. Ghee didn't do much in San Diego and Tennessee while Sims had a productive season with Oakland in 2013 (and less productive in 2014). Should we expect Andre Caldwell, Chase Coffman, Jordan Shipley and Dontay Moch to return? Moch already returned, man. Right!

Sims, who turns 30 this November, recognizes two things:

1) They're bringing everyone back for a Led Zeppelin inspired reunion tour;
2) That he's here for one specific purpose... stopping the run.

"When they signed Mike back, I looked at the situation like they're trying to put the whole team back together," Sims said on Friday. "I'm just glad to have a chance to play back with Mike and Geno and those guys again.

His role?

"I’m always going to go in there and do my job. I’m just a guy that goes in there and stops the run and anything else you ask me to do I’ll put my efforts in there, too," Sims said to some of the team's beat writers on Friday. "My main focus is stopping the run."

I'll wait so you can process that.

During his final season with the Bengals, Pro Football Focus scored Sims' run defense with a grade of -1.2 -- he graded better than Robert Geathers and Domata Peko. In 2011, it was -4.0. Though, during his first season in Oakland, his run defense score was +4.6 but that balanced into a +0.1 last season. The Bengals drafted Sims in 2008 and then, after his four-year rookie contract expired, Cincinnati re-signed him to a one-year deal in 2012 (he was receiving minimal interest in free agency). Cincinnati used their second and third round draft picks in the 2012 NFL draft to select Devon Still and Brandon Thompson respectively, nudging Sims out the door by 2013. During his two seasons in Oakland, Sims signed two one-year deals -- $1.75 million in 2013 and $1.45 million in 2014. Now he's signed with Cincinnati on a contract worth $745,000 with no guaranteed money.

"There’s going to be a competition at all the positions," Jay Hayes said via Bengals.com. "We’ll see if he’s still playing at the level he was at when he was here. It’s been two years. He was a good rotation guy on short-yardage and goal line. He’s a load in there. We’ll see."

It almost appears that Cincinnati's offseason game plan is designed to retool their run defense. The Bengals defense ranked a mediocre 20th against the run in 2014, allowing 116.3 yards/game... most of that, a result of losing Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga. Michael Johnson isn't considered a great pass rusher -- he does just enough to get his teammates into ideal position -- though he has the length to complicate passing lanes. Sims is obvious. A.J. Hawk is versatile enough to play every linebacker spot on Paul Guenther's defense, but even he's viewed as a run-first oriented linebacker at this stage in his career.

These moves have done very little to enhance the team's pass rush, which ranked dead-last in the NFL last season... on second thought, the Bengals pass rush was so dead last year that the body had already begun decomposing last August. The hope is that Carlos Dunlap continues to develop, that Geno Atkins spends the offseason training (as opposed to rehabilitating like last year) and -- god forbid -- enough changes in the defensive scheme that increase the number of blitzes.