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Film Review: What Kevin Minter brings to the Bengals defense

After a productive 2016 season, the former second-round draft pick is slated to play significant snaps for a revamped Bengals defensive unit. So, what does he bring to the table?

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Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Like any other team, the Bengals have their “types”. They like their bell cow running backs to be big, they like their defensive ends to be long, and they like their linebackers to be physical.

Their newest free agent acquisition, Kevin Minter, is no different from the downhill “thumper” linebackers the Bengals have filled their roster with for years. A 2013 second round pick out of LSU, Minter’s strengths as a draft prospect included taking on blocks with aggression, and having a good feel for pursuit, while his lateral agility and lack of recovery athleticism were the plagues of his game.

There is pretty much a Kevin Minter in every draft class. He’s a mainly two down linebacker who can only survive inside. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because Minter along with being very physical, is a very cerebral player who is used to being the MIKE of a tough defense. He’s used to telling others where to line up and shift, and having taken 1,003 snaps, he’s very durable, and used to playing in every scenario on the field.

For the last two years, Minter has started and aligned at both right and left inside linebacker in Arizona’s 3-4 defense. 2016 was his most effective year in the NFL and now the Bengals are signing him to give him a chance in their 4-3 defense. Let’s go to the tape to see where Minter won and lost.

When attacking the line of scrimmage, Minter generates good power at contact, but he also does a great job of sinking his hips while maneuvering around traffic and finding the ball. That can be seen here against the Seahawks:

This play is a good example to show what run fits are. On a zone read like this, the defenders in each gap need to make sure they show “color” (their jersey) to the running back in each gap. If they do, they make the running back likely to cut back sooner than he wants to. Minter reads the play all the way and shows plenty of color in his gap; he makes the stuff for a minimal gain after bending around the block. Calais Campbell’s work here is what really makes the play, and shows the Cardinals’ value of a stout 1T, which is what the Bengals are counting on Andrew Billings to be in their defense.

Continuing with this theme, Minter finished the year with 3.5 sacks to his name, as he was very effective as an A-Gap blitzer, using the same precise flexibility and aggressiveness to get to the quarterback.

In both instances, Minter is pressing the line of scrimmage in the pre-snap phase, and showing blitz all the way. And both times, he twists with Campbell to the right of him, causing confusion amongst the opposing lines. His ability to maintain power through traffic and speed going into the backfield is what makes him an effective rusher. The Bengals, along with disguising A-gap blitzes in their sub packages, like to use bear fronts occasionally on third and long situations. Doing that, they can blitz linebackers and drop defensive ends back in coverage. Minter’s production and capability as a blitzer should have been a definite selling point to Marvin Lewis and Paul Guenther.

As a run defender, Minter is reliable, but not perfect. Often times, he is susceptible to taking false steps and since he’s not a quick twitch player, he doesn’t have the quickness to recover the ground he lost. Take this play against the Panthers as an example:

You can see he’s got his eyes on the whole play, but he takes a little hop step as if he’s hesitating where the back is going to cut in the hole. The Panthers did a great job of opening a gaping hole for the back to run through, and it was up to Minter to fill it as quickly as possible, and trust the alley players behind him to back him up. He makes the tackle, but he gave up a few more yards than he should’ve, if he had just shown more trust in his eyes.

So we’ve seen how Minter operates in traffic, how does he fare in space?

When Minter was tasked with coverage duties, he was primarily asked to drop into an underneath zone in cover two and cover three concepts, and sometimes he was responsible for taking away the flats. He was decent, but not great. But he did make a few plays like this:

As we all know, the Bengals have had issues with second level open field tackling. On this play by the Bills, LeSean McCoy, one of the best open-field runners in the league, is getting the ball on a “V route” out of the backfield, and Minter manages to wrap him up for only a three-yard gain. He does an excellent job of keeping McCoy in front of him, and wastes no time making his move. A lot of times, you’ll see the defender wait and see which way he needs to lunge, but Minter trusted his eyes and got a form tackle on McCoy before he could make a move.

On these next two plays, his ability to read the quarterback’s eyes in coverage and diagnose the primary read is on full display. Here against the Buccaneers, he matches up with the tight end going over the middle and breaking out towards the sideline:

And on this play versus the 49ers, he immediately recognizes the designed play off the motioned receiver and forces the quarterback to bail on the play:

So while he can play zone well enough over-the-middle, I wouldn’t task him with playing man against running backs, as he just isn’t quick enough to mirror routes and stay with quicker targets, as seen here versus the Panthers:

Overall as an athlete, he’s nothing special as an inside linebacker, but athleticism at that position is highly coveted and doesn’t come cheap, as seen by his one year deal that can earn him up to $4.5 million, per the Cincinnati Enquirer.

2016 was Minter’s best year as a pro after being an underwhelming member of the Cardinals defense, but this is Minter’s prime, and as long as he’s not put into situations where his strengths aren’t fully able to be exercised, there’s no reason why we should see a decline in his play. He’s not some 33-year-old playing on his fourth contract, or with his third team, he’s 26-years-old, coming into a solid defense with a good, not great, skill-set. Nothing more, nothing less.

Minter and his quality play will by all signs take over Rey Maualuga’s traditional spot at inside linebacker in base 4-3 sets next to Vontaze Burfict and reportedly Nick Vigil. And Vincent Rey will be on the sideline as emergency backup and when Burfict and Vigil are on the field in nickel packages. Considering how bad Maualuga has been of late, along with how little he saw the field, Minter will be a welcomed upgrade at the role. He won’t have to make all the adjustments and shifts, as Burfict will still have those responsibilities. Instead, Minter will be free to just trust his eyes and make plays, which is potentially just what he needs to be more consistent.

Minter isn’t a game changer, but he’s sure to improve the Bengals’ linebacker play and help upgrade the position for 2017.