The Bengals defense is relatively healthy heading into 2015. As a result, the defensive position battles are starting to come more into focus and heating up as we inch closer to the season. We take a look at how the defensive ends, defensive tackles and linebackers are looking so far and the depth we can expect to see when Week 1 rolls around.
Projected depth chart: 1) Michael Johnson 2) Carlos Dunlap 3) Wallace Gilberry 4) Margus Hunt 5) Will Clarke
Projected cuts: Sam Montgomery
After spraining his MCL in camp, Michael Johnson has yet to play a preseason game. However, let's go ahead and assume that he and Carlos Dunlap are safe, especially after they both received pretty significant contracts recently. When both Johnson and Dunlap were with the team last in 2013, they combined for 11 sacks and in 2012 they combined for 17.5 sacks - about 34 percent of the team's 51 total sacks that season. Johnson failed to make a mark in 2014 with Tampa Bay due to an unfortunate string of injuries, but Dunlap posted the best season since his rookie season without much help from the rest of the line. There's almost no chance that the team will relegate either player to a less prominent position on the defensive line.
It's really hard to gauge how the defensive ends are going to look going into 2015, with so many important names not practicing due to injury. Michael Johnson and Margus Hunt have missed significant time this summer and neither played against the Giants; Hunt did play against the Bucs. That means there's been more opportunity for the backup guys on the roster to make an impact. Though, Will Clarke has stepped up so far in training camp, he was basically a ghost against the Giants, only recording a single tackle and a single quarterback hit. Sam Montgomery didn't even do that, so it's hard to see him putting forth any argument toward making it through the next wave of cuts, much less the final 53-man roster.
Updated Bengals Position Battles: QB, WR, RB, TE
With the first preseason game of the season now behind us, we are beginning to see a much clearer picture of which players are winning and losing battles for spots on the final 53 man roster. Here's a look at how these battles are shaping up on the offense.
Projected depth chart: 1) Geno Atkins 2) Domata Peko 3) Devon Still 4) Pat Sims 5) Marcus Hardison
Cuts: Brandon Thompson, Kwame Geathers
Practice squad: DeShawn Williams
I ranked defensive tackle as the weakest position on the defense earlier this month, but this position is starting to trend upward, with defensive end trending downward. By most accounts, Geno Atkins is fully back, and that's great news for this position. However, it might not be such great news to the players fighting for that final DT spot on the roster. If Atkins is truly back and ready to terrorize the NFL again, there is less need to keep extra talent at the position on the roster heading into the season.
It seems that Devon Still is ready to contribute this year but he's been inconsistent so far. While he had a poor showing against the Giants, he did well against the Bucs and was one of the highest rated players by PFF. Still, fewer and fewer people are envisioning him on the roster. Kwame Geathers didn't have much of a chance to make the roster to begin with, and that doesn't seem to have really changed with the few snaps he's been given.
DeShawn Williams has been making his name known and against the Giants, he had a sack on QB Ricky Stanzi. Marcus Hardison was able to get himself a sack during the game as well; playing plenty of snaps on the night and contributing to a very successful defensive effort. Williams is likely to end up on the practice squad and Hardison on the final roster.
Projected depth chart: 1) Vontaze Burfict 2) Rey Maualuga 3) Emmanuel Lamur 4) A.J. Hawk 5) P.J. Dawson 6) Vincent Rey 7) Marquis Flowers
Projected cuts: Jayson Dimanche, Trevor Roach, Nico Johnson, Chris Carter
Despite injury, Vontaze Burfict is still the first name on the LB depth chart. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, because they're gravely and completely wrong. The other two primary starters from last year, Rey Maualuga and Emmanuel Lamur, aren't going anywhere either. There has been speculation of Lamur losing his starting job to the young and talented P.J. Dawson, but there has been no actual evidence of that happening so far this summer. Though, Dawson did have a good game against the Bucs. Vincent Rey is also a lock for the final roster and is someone the Bengals coaches love. With Burfict likely starting the year on PUP, the linebacker position is going to need to pick up the missing pieces during his absence. A.J. Hawk was an offseason addition to the team via free agency this year and is looking to help pick up the slack with Burfict missing time. Though he's aging, his experience should help the group.
However, behind these five obvious roster candidates, there is an interesting question of who will secure the final LB spot. Marquis Flowers, Jayson Dimanche, Nico Johnson, and Chris Carter are all ineligible for the practice squad at this point in their careers. Trevor Roach is eligible, but he hasn't really been heard from much since being signed after the draft. Therefore, it's pretty much make the roster or go home for these players that have, at one time or another, been key backup players for the Bengals.
Chris Carter has been noted as a very talented player at times, but will it be enough for him to secure his roster spot? Look for Carter to continue stepping up during the next two weeks in the hopes of making the team. As far as that final LB spot goes, the Bengals drafted Marquis Flowers because they like his athleticism, versatility, and hard-hitting nature. He's shown the team quite a bit so far this summer, totaling seven tackles and a deflected pass against the Giants, so it appears he has the inside track to that final spot.