Last week, Paul Guenther told the media to expect changes to the defensive lineup in the form of young players receiving more playing time. It was welcomed news as the Bengals are typically uber-conservative with young players and require nearly all defensive players to ride the bench for one year (if not two or three) before seeing significant playing time on defense.
“Even though you’ve been kind of a guy that’s been here, if I think there’s going to be a younger player that I think can do it better at this point, whether it be for 15 more snaps, I’ve got to look at that because some of the guys that have been here, that have been fixtures here, for some reason or another, whether it’s age or whatever it is, they are not playing at a high level,” Guenther said.
This was also nice to hear as many of the Bengals’ veterans on defense haven’t been playing up to expectations. Players like Rey Maualuga, Michael Johnson and even Adam Jones have been playing below the level expected of them. After eight weeks of a disappointing season, maybe it’s time for change and for some of the recently drafted players to see increased playing time.
But, it seems Marvin Lewis isn’t too happy about Guenther spreading the news of change. On his weekly television show, Dan Hoard asked Lewis about the changes Guenther spoke of and whether he anticipates them coming.
“I don’t,” Lewis told Hoard, the Bengals’ radio voice*. “Paul shouldn’t have…you have to be careful doing that. We’re going to keep working and guys will earn opportunities as we go. But you’ve got to earn opportunities. We’re not going to just make a wholesale change and so forth. Our good players are expected to play good and I think that’s part of it.”
If you follow the Bengals, it’s no surprise to hear Lewis says you “have to be careful” playing young players. This is not an NFL standard, plenty of defensive players enter the league and make an immediate impact. Take 2015 first round pick Marcus Peters who became an immediate starter for the Chiefs last year and had 60 tackles, 8 interceptions (tied with Reggie Nelson for the league lead) and 26 passes defended in his rookie year. Kiko Alonso, a 2013 second round pick, started all 16 games as a rookie and had 159 tackles, 2 sacks and 4 interceptions that year. These are extreme cases of rookies who exceeded expectations, but, you can’t exceed expectations if you’re not given an opportunity to play.
It’s a nice luxury to learn the NFL style and get adjusted to life as an NFL player while riding the bench. But, sitting on the bench doesn’t make you a better player. Getting NFL experience by playing in NFL games makes you a better player. That’s why I’d like to see William Jackson III return this season. The Bengals’ 2016 first round draft pick is currently on Injured Reserve, and the team must decide if it will be Jackson or running back Cedric Peerman who returns with the one eligible designation to return tag this year. If Jackson is chosen to return, it may not offer a huge boost to the team, but, it would offer a boost to his experience level going forward and hopefully help him next year to be ready for playing time on defense.
For Lewis’ 3-4-1 Bengals, playing young guys is apparently something to be cautious of. Maybe he just doesn’t want the public to know changes are coming, but, knowing what we know about the Bengals head coach, it’s also highly possible that he doesn’t actually want to change the dynamic on defense.
“They have to play up to a certain level all the time,” Lewis said of his veteran players. “We have guys doing that on offense but we have to get the same throughout the football team in every area. And we have to continue to coach better – that’s part of the responsibility as well.”
We’ll see on Monday night when the Bengals play the Giants whether Guenther was serious about change or if Lewis will have his way.
*Bengals.com has since removed Marvin Lewis’ quotes on this topic from their website.