Can you feel it? The regular season is right around the corner and there’s an odd feeling surrounding the Bengals. The starters keep playing well in the preseason games, which is one of the most important things to see at this time of the year, but injuries keep mounting on what is looked at as a deep roster.
Speaking of “corners”, a couple of the questions we received this week have to do with that position on Cincinnati’s roster. Be sure to send us your questions via our Twitter accounts (@CincyJungle or @CJAnthonyCUI), or via our Facebook page to be answered every week. You can also have them answered on our Facebook live sessions, or on The Orange and Black Insider podcast, so be sure to check it all out!
@CincyJungle With us lacking depth in the secondary should we go for Browner?— The Red Power Ranger (@ChillFrom94Til) August 31, 2016
If you follow the beat writers for the Bengals on social media, and many other teams for that matter, once a big name guy is out there, they jokingly await the questions to roll in on the team signing said player. Most of the time, I fall into a similar stance, but with injuries to two former first round picks slated to be in the top-four of the depth chart in 2016, seemingly far-fetched questions become a bit more realistic.
With the age and contract situations surrounding the current starters, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick, coupled with the health stigmas attached to Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson III, looking to bring in some cheap and talented additions does seem wise. But, those who have been following the Bengals for any amount of time know that they are quite conservative when it comes to free agents.
Browner comes with his appeals, though. Size, production and a potential scheme-fit seem to be at the top of the list. At 6’4” and his being a solid corner in one of the NFL’s best defenses for a number of years, his landing in Cincinnati, especially for the right price, makes sense.
Though the Seahawks employ more of a 3-4 look on defense, they use big, physical corners on the outside—largely in single, press coverage. The Bengals utilize a lot of the same concepts in the secondary because of their confidence in each level of their defense. Throw in the fact that Browner is a two-time Super Bowl Champion with both the Seattle and New England, and I can see how “The Red Power Ranger” gets excited at the idea of him in stripes.
However, Browner had a poor 2015 campaign with the Saints and has had suspension issues (four games in 2014 with the Patriots). There are also now rumblings of a locker room spat with Darrelle Revis a couple of years ago, and with his being 32-years-old, it only seems to make sense if the Bengals suffer more in-season injuries at the position and he comes at a reasonable price.
@CincyJungle Who do you think is team's best slot CB and what's the depth at that position?— Greg Ksiazek (@OneFemur) August 31, 2016
Well, the long-term plan, at least for the first couple of years of his career, was for Darqueze Dennard to step into the role. While he was technically sound at Michigan State and was always a willing tackler—two traits needed for a slot corner—Dennard did struggle with tugging at the more athletic college wideouts as a Spartan.
With age hitting the cornerback spot when Dennard was drafted No. 24 overall back in 2014, it looked like the team was attempting to go back to the Johnathan Joseph/Leon Hall tandem of the late 2000s, with Kirkpatrick being the more athletic corner in the mold of Joseph and Dennard more resembling the technically-sound Hall. Unfortunately, as has been the case at the position for Cincinnati over the past handful of years, Dennard hasn’t been able to stay healthy long enough to give people enough confidence that he was a sound selection.
And though Dennard hasn’t been playing this preseason, it appears his ankle injury won’t keep him out of the regular season. So, barring setbacks, which do tend to happen, Dennard should be the team’s slot corner this year.
However, Josh Shaw has also seen time as a swing player in the secondary. He’s seen time at safety, but is also being groomed as a slot corner as well. While Shaw is more of a Jack-of-all-trades rather than a master-at-one, he should see time this year. The NFL has gone the way of multiple receiver sets, so Jones, Kirkpatrick, Dennard and Shaw should be on the field all at the same time in dime packages in 2016.
Even with the talent of Dennard and Shaw, it’s a bummer we likely won’t be seeing much of Jackson, the exciting rookie corner, this year.
At first blush, it’s a little worrisome that we’ve barely heard his name at all in the preseason. After all, a guy who is initially set to help remedy the early-on loss of Vontaze Burfict needs to provide big plays like No. 55 frequently provides.
It’s not hard to have missed Karlos Dansby this preseason, as he’s only had two total tackles in three games—all in Week 3 against the Jaguars. Even though Dansby deserves the benefit of the doubt, given his solid 12 previous NFL seasons, but he will need to pull more weight in the first three weeks without Burfict.
Look at the three preseason games and the performance by the overall starting defensive unit, though. The Bengals were up 21-3 by the time the first and second-stringers were out in Jacksonville and up 20-6 against the Lions before halftime, and owned the ball for much of the first quarter in the preseason opener. In short, the defense has been largely dominant this preseason.
Sometimes it’s the sum of the parts that is greater than the whole. While it’s a little concerning we haven’t heard much in the preseason from Dansby, there is a reason the team pursued him twice in free agency over the past three offseasons.
If you’re worried Dansby is going to be the next A.J. Hawk for Cincinnati, I really don’t think that’s the case. But, let’s have meaningful football commence before we make a definitive decision either way.