The Bengals have four defensive ends currently on the roster and outside of starters Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, the depth is shaky and unreliable at best with Margus Hunt and Will Clarke in the wings. The Bengals have six days until the regular-season opened and are still in a position to try to improve their defensive end depth, although the options available at this point aren't all that impressive.
Dunlap and Johnson are a great combination, there's no doubt about that. My issue, and many fellow fans' issue, is that there's not even an average player behind them and the team is responsible for that lack of depth. They are apparently handing the left end/nickel tackle role that Wallace Gilberry played for the last few seasons to the almost 30-year old Margus Hunt, who, again, has failed to show he can be a quality player in this league during the regular season.
With Clarke set to get more chances at right end, as he was supposed to be Johnson's long-term replacement, Hunt is the only other defensive end in the roster. He also looks like he will get away with the nickel tackle job in spite of having a better player in DeShawn Williams, who has been one of the nicest surprises this preseason. Marcus Hardison is lost to injury, and Ryan Brown, the rookie undrafted free agent was never considered to be real competition for the position. He has joined the practice squad though.
It's not that Hunt is bad, though, he's already too old to have any kind of upside, but he hasn't shown enough to say he can be that third pass rusher the Bengals are counting on as contenders. For a defense that relies so much on its front four to get to the quarterback, it is frustrating to see no real interest in bringing more quality pass rushers to a roster that already lost Gilberry in free agency, without much if any fight.
To be fair the Bengals brought in Dwight Freeney, but they failed to sign him and the veteran now plays for the Falcons. Other than that, they've just stayed the course with Hunt. A couple of days ago, I wrote an article about how stability works for Cincinnati, but also mentioned how in situations, like with Hunt, it hasn't panned out at all.
After using a second-round pick in the big Estonian, I understand that the team has tried to give him a fair chance in previous seasons, but this is already his fourth year in the NFL and he's just another guy out there.
Not ideal when a TE does that to your DE https://t.co/ohi5GFAgHz— Ryan Patrick (@RoyleRedlegs) September 2, 2016
Injuries have taken a toll for Cincinnati at defensive tackle as they've lost rookie Andrew Billings as well as Brandon Thompson and Hardison inside, but that hasn't been the case outside and they're the only ones to blame for failing to bring in any competition for Hunt. I'm fine with Clarke because he's still younger and has looked better this summer. He's never been a pass rusher and the team doesn't consider him as one, but the backup left end role does concern me badly.
I know the Bengals' philosophy is to develop their own players and to give them the spot after another guy leaves, but they've also brought somebody like Karlos Dansby in to shore up the linebacker unit and they could have done the same at defensive end, no matter what happened with Freeney.
For waiting too long to take action, the Bengals face the risk of not finding anybody worthy and not finding someone who has the time to learn the defense and practice with the team.
Last year the Bengals still had Gilberry and they also added Chris Carter as situational pass rusher, but so far the scenario is way worse in 2016 with less depth to back up the starters. The market is also very tiny even after the final cuts.
Here are some of the best defensive ends available.
- Ryan Davis: He originally made the Jaguars team in 2012 as an undrafted free agent and had 11 sacks over four seasons before being moved to linebacker by Jacksonville in the offseason.
- Corey Lemonier: A 3-4 outside linebacker, Lemonier was a third-round pick by the 49ers in 2013, but hasn't recorded a sack since his rookie season. Maybe a change of formation and a smaller role can help him find his niche.
- O'Brien Schofield: A hot name after leaving the Falcons, Schofield was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft and played for them for three seasons. He then joined the Seahawks for two years and the Falcons last year.
- Björn Werner: the German former first-round pick with the Colts failed to impress as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and was cut by the Jaguars recently, but he was a pretty good 4-3 end in college and has some upside.
- Quinton Coples: a surprising cut by the Rams, Coples is a former first-round pick as well. At 6-foot-6 he could be a very intriguing addition and he was tried at tackle in Los Angeles in addition to end.
Head coach Marvin Lewis indicated he's open to exploring ways to improve the 53-man roster, so hopefully the Bengals finally address the most glaring hole they have after ignoring it during the entire offseason.