When Mike Zimmer left Cincinnati after the 2013 season it was an inevitability.
Fans, Bengals players and staff alike knew Zimmer proved his worthiness to become a head coach and that it was only a matter of time before he would be leaving the Bengals' defense he had built during the prior six years.
Once Zimmer was named head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Paul Guenther's promotion from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator came days later. Fans and players alike seemed excited for what Guenther's reign would bring to the defense, though saddened by Zimmer's departure. Guenther had gained respect for his work with Vontaze Burfict and Emmanuel Lamur and a few other teams were also considering hiring him as their defensive coordinator for the 2014 season.
Now, with a season of DC experience under his belt, Guenther knows what he's doing.
"I would say Pauly tries to really help everyone just understand, he wants us to know the defense. He really coaches us as a group. The D-line or the secondary," George Iloka said. "Just kind of makes you overall have a better grasp of the defense and help us understand why he's calling certain plays."
As for Zimmer, Iloka says he's very picky, more old-school as a coach but a defensive genius. "He reminded me of my high school coach. He'll get in your face if you're a rookie or a five-time All-Pro."
As for similarities between the two, Iloka says each are well-rounded as coaches.
One big difference between the two coaches is where Zimmer left off and the drop off after one season with Guenther. In 2013 the Bengals had the third ranked defense when it came to yards per game. At the end of 2014, they dropped to 11th in that category. The Bengals' 13 forced fumbles and 11 recovered fumbles from 2013 also dropped to 10 and 6 respectively in 2014. And most notably, the Bengals' 43 sacks in 2013 dropped to 20 in 2014.
Are those drop offs just part of the learning curve for first-year coordinators? In 2008, Zimmer's first year with the Bengals, the team had an abysmal 17 sacks but was the 12th-ranked defense when it came to yards per game. In 2009, Zimmer's second season with the team, the Bengals ascended to the No. 4 defense while doubling the sacks from the year prior to 34.
The hope is with additions and changes made to the Bengals' roster this offseason, Guenther too will have the Bengals climbing up the defensive ranks in 2015, while racking up more sacks, too.
Guenther's technique of coaching position groups together could also be part of the reason Iloka says he has a close relationship with the other safeties on the team. "I have a great relationship with all of my teammates. We have a pretty chill locker room, we all hang out. Everyone talks to everyone. A lot of the guys have the same personalities, the same interests on and off the field."