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Bengals Mailbag: Questioning the status of two veterans

Criticisms are mounting with the Bengals, but a couple of long-tenured veterans are particularly coming under fire. Can the Bengals turn things around in the second half of 2016, or should the team look elsewhere?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As the Bengals grind through their bye week to try and grab answers to recover from a 3-4-1 start to 2016, internal examinations of the roster are being made. It’s evident based on the number of tryouts held this week, as well as the signing of Wallace Gilberry, but it hasn’t stopped the fan base from asking for more proactive behavior.

We received some great questions this week from our readers, mostly pointing to the questionable future of two long-tenured and formerly productive veterans. We answered some on this week’s Orange and Black Insider, but other quality ones kept coming our way throughout the week.

As always, you can submit your questions to us on Twitter @CincyJungle, @CJAnthonyCUI and/or @BengalsOBI to be answered weekly!

On one hand, it’s totally plausible. You never want to blame a close contest solely on the kicker, as there are so many other facets that contribute to results (missed opportunities, turnovers, penalties, etc.). Still, it’s hard not to once again point the finger at Mike Nugent after he was responsible for a vacancy of four points, including a particularly large-looming missed PAT.

As it currently stands, Nugent’s 14 field goals made are tied for ninth-best in the league. But his 94% accuracy on extra points has him in a tie for 20th. He has also cemented a reputation for being completely unreliable from 50-plus-yard attempts. Nugent also isn’t a master at kickoffs, even though the emphasis on that skill has been altered with the rule changes.

It seems that Cincinnati is at least contemplating the idea of replacing him, as they brought in four veteran kickers for tryouts this week. Of Kai Forbath, Randy Bullock, Travis Coons and Zach Hocker, none really jump out as significant improvements over Nugent, but with the fickle nature of field goal kicking, any one of these guys could catch fire, a la Josh Brown with the Bengals in 2012.

On the other had, these are the Bengals we are talking about. A resistance to change the status quo trickles down from owner Mike Brown and into the often-conservative coaching staff led by Marvin Lewis. Making a change on a veteran they trust just isn’t in this team’s DNA.

And, in Nugent’s defense, he’s rebounded incredibly well after rough stretches with the Bengals before. This preseason against the first six weeks of the regular season is one example, as is a stretch in 2014. After starting that year 11-for-17, including a critical miss to lead to another tie against the Panthers, Nugent went on to hit 15-of-16 kicks over the next 11 weeks of the season.

There is obviously a fine line to walk between pulling the rug out from a player and giving him unending chances after failures. However, at this point, we know what to expect from the Bengals’ veteran in his sixth season with the club.

Do I think the Bengals will make a move on one of those veterans they worked out to take Nugent’s place? No. They obviously wanted Gilberry and struck quickly, but are taking their time here. Maybe the workouts were uninspiring, or maybe it was a simple message to Nugent to pick up his game.

We’ll see, but for now, hope that Nugent gets it together.


Well, they won’t cut him right now, that’s for sure. Even though he’s having what could be considered his worst season since he entered the league in 2009 (1.5 sacks, 20 total tackles in eight games), he’s a starter and Lewis’ crew loves him.

His salary cap hit in 2016 is $6.125 million, which by starting defensive end standards, isn’t outrageous. But, when Johnson is paid as a solid lineman to get to the passer and stop the run, he is expected to do so on a regular basis. With his 2016 pace looking to be three sacks and the run game currently ranked 22nd against the run, it’s fair for fans like Bryan to question Johnson’s worth.

For 11 years, the Bengals relied on another defensive end with an eerily similar skill set and statistical output in Robert Geathers. Johnson is a superior athlete and has been more productive than Geathers was, particularly in the area of sacks (Geathers had 32 in 11 Bengals seasons, Johnson has 33 in seven Bengals years), he’s never come close to replicating his huge 2012 campaign where he had 11.5 sacks. And, as Johnson gets closer to his 30s, his career path is more resembling that of Geathers’ than that of a consistent near-Pro Bowl player.

But, like it or not, the Bengals didn’t pay either Geathers or Johnson for high sack numbers. It’s Johnson’s fit in the system, his ability to set the edge, bat down passes at the line and contribute in the running game, while also occasionally getting to the passer, that has made him a valuable commodity over the years. And, like Geathers, Johnson is well-liked in both the locker room and the community.

Still, almost none of those valued traits are translating on the field this year. Johnson’s play, along with many others on the defense, has dipped and the entire team is feeling the effects. At the beginning of this season, the defense was able to get past Johnson’s deficiencies with the rises of Margus Hunt and Will Clarke. Unfortunately, both have cooled off significantly in recent weeks and a 458-yard passing effort from Kirk Cousins last Sunday has many hitting the panic button.

That’s why the Bengals brought in Gilberry. They want to see if another player who was once a good fit in their system can spark something up front. Gilberry’s return to the Bengals is similar to Johnson’s from 2014 to 2015, and while five sacks last year by Johnson wasn’t something to throw a parade over, he fit in nicely once again, as evidenced by the defense’s No. 11 finish.

Anyway, Johnson will continue to be here in 2016 and will see significant snaps as a starter. It’s in the offseason where his status and contract will be re-evaluated.