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Bengals dealing with minimal injury questions on defense

Although there are a few Bengals players on defense who have dealt with some lingering injury problems, the unit as a whole seems fairly healthy heading into the 2017 NFL season.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals’ defense has seen some problematic injuries over the years. The absence of key players has an obvious effect on the overall performance of the defensive unit. Luckily, the Bengals have not seen a huge number of injuries on the defensive side of the ball in recent years. But, there have been a few notable players who have dealt with injury issues, setting the unit as a whole back.

Let’s take a look at the biggest injury concerns on the defensive side of the ball as we move toward the 2017 NFL season.

Vontaze Burfict

Of the 22 games Burfict has missed in his career, three have been a result of suspension and the other 19 from injury. The three game suspension came as a result of his infamous helmet-to-helmet hit on Antonio Brown in the Wild Card round of the 2015 NFL Playoffs.

Far more often, Burfict’s missed playing time has been a result of injury. He missed two games in 2016 with a knee injury and concussion and 17 games between 2014 and 2015 with concussions and a knee injury that required microfracture surgery. Granted, injuries are freak occurrences that sometimes can not be avoided. In his case, you could argue the injury history is sporadic, but, his instinctive playing style has an obvious impact on his health. The Bengals’ defense is clearly much less effective when he is not on the field and the Bengals should (and will) do everything possible to ensure Burfict is healthy as we head into 2017.

Andrew Billings

Billings’ recovery from the torn meniscus that ended his rookie season before it began has been steady and he’s fully cleared to return to football activities. That is excellent news, as the Bengals desperately need someone to step up next to Geno Atkins at defensive tackle. Without Domata Peko on the roster, the Bengals no longer have a safety net for the other starting spot, making the Bengals fully invested in Billings’ long-term recovery.

Luckily, it seems as though the Bengals have been approaching his recovery the right way. Instead of rushing him back to the training field and forcing him to play before he was ready, the Bengals allowed him to have a full season to recover, sit back, and watch the veterans at work. Entering the NFL barely at 21 years old, the Bengals may have needed to sit him in his first season anyway as he learned professional work habits from veteran players. It’s never good when such a celebrated draft pick loses his first season to a major injury, but there is no reason to think this particular injury will linger long-term. Be prepared for Billings to have every opportunity to step up in 2017 and prove his ability as a starter.

William Jackson III

Like Billings, Jackson’s rookie year was ruined due to injury and he’s yet to see the field. Jackson tore his pectoral muscle in training camp and while he had enough recovery time to return near the end of the season, the Bengals chose to rest him, which could turn out to be a smart decision in the long-run as he had a full season to recover to the fullest extent.

The current state of the Bengals’ cornerback corps is more stable than it appeared at the beginning of the offseason. The Bengals re-signed Dre Kirkpatrick and stuck behind Adam Jones, despite his off-field transgressions. If Jackson III can stay healthy and live up to the hype, Jones’ time as a starter could be limited.

Marcus Hardison

Entering his third offseason with the Bengals, Hardison has yet to play a regular season down after sustaining injuries in the third week of the preseason two years in a row. If he can stay healthy, Hardison could have a major impact on the Bengals’ defense. But, that’s a big if at this point. Hardison will be looking to take snaps away from Billings—the presumed starter at nose tackle—but is more likely to be used in a rotational role along the defensive line.

In the long run, the Bengals don’t appear to have nearly as many lingering injury problems on defense as they do on offense. Luckily, the Bengals have been smart with the way they handle their recent injuries, not rushing young players back to the field just for the sake of putting them out there. Long-term, that should help with their continued health and ability to develop as players.