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Setting expectations for the Bengals’ defensive rookies

Are any of the Bengals’ defensive rookie capable of coming in and putting the Bengals defense over the top?

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals defense took a few games to get on the same page last season, but after Vontaze Burfict returned from injury, the defense seemed to settle down. This offseason, the Bengals made a few splashes on the free agent market and in the draft on the defensive side of the ball. Players like Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis have fans hoping their additions can put the Bengals’ defense over the edge.

We know Marvin Lewis has brought along rookies on defense incredibly slowly. Such has been the case with like Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, Will Clarke and countless others. But what should we expect from the Bengals’ 2017 defensive rookies in their first NFL season?

Pass rushers: Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson

The Bengals history with rookie pass rushers isn’t too much different from other teams. They like to put them in during obvious passing downs and allow them to go get the quarterback. Lawson and Willis can expect the same treatment, though it may come slowly and steadily as they prove their worth. The coaches are trying Lawson, one of the Bengals’ fourth round picks, at outside linebacker, but most of the time he will just be rushing the passer, so call it whatever you want. Either way, these rookies may see their fair share of snaps because of the opportunity that is open to them.

Last season the Bengals rode with Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap as their most-played defensive ends. Each played more than 75 percent of the Bengals’ defensive snaps. The team was almost forced to do this as players like Will Clarke and Margus Hunt didn’t meet expectations. It’s clear Johnson just doesn’t provide much as a pass rusher anymore either, though he is still pretty good against the run. Dunlap and Johnson are highly likely to start for the Bengals, but the team would be wise to disperse some of Johnson’s 831 snaps from last season between the two rookie pass rushers.

So between resting Johnson more, and giving Lawson some linebacker snaps during passing downs, these rookies should be prepared to play a decent amount, but don’t expect them to usurp any starting jobs this season.

Snap count projection for Willis: 300-400 snaps

Snap count projection for Lawson: 300-400 snaps

Defensive tackle: Ryan Glasgow

The Bengals love fourth round defensive tackles. The list of players who fit the bill includes Andrew Billings, Marcus Hardison, Geno Atkins and now Glasgow. It is hard to pin how much we should expect to see of Glasgow this year, but what I find interesting is the excitement surrounding him. He doesn’t do anything exceptional but his motor is really what sets him apart. He just tries so hard from whistle to whistle. Maybe it is the fact that Domata Peko is finally gone, and the Bengals could finally fill that spot next to Atkins with someone productive. He is a very nice prospect, but I wouldn’t expect him to be starting next to Atkins anytime soon. Billings is expected to take on that role in 2017, assuming he does well and makes it through training camp and the preseason.

Peko leaves behind a little more than 500 defensive snaps to be filled, but there is a very long list of guys to fill those snaps, starting with Billings. Glasgow also has to compete with players like Brandon Thompson and Pat Sims. Glasgow could be a prime candidate for the practice squad, because the Bengals love to utilize the practice squad to keep their talented young players, though as a fourth round draft pick, it may be hard to get him there.

To play devil’s advocate, there is a real possibility Glasgow does rise up the depth chart and reach the role of a rotational lineman. The players in front of him are either average, disappointments or have been injured, so we don’t quite know what to expect out of them at the pro level. Assuming he makes the roster, we likely won’t see much from Glasgow in 2017.

Snap count projection for Glasgow: 0-100 snaps

Late round picks: Jordan Evans and Brandon Wilson

The Bengals don’t have too much success with late round picks. Since 2010, the only defensive player the Bengals have turned into a starter is George Iloka, and he didn’t really play until his second season. Burfict had some real success early as a rookie, but he was an undrafted free agent.

Evans and Wilson aren’t going to get many defensive snaps. Both will have to really show they can contribute on special teams if they want to play during their rookie year. Evans could end up becoming a backup linebacker, but his place on this roster isn’t necessarily safe. Wilson is interesting because he played so many positions in college. He’s actually listed as a safety on the team’s roster, but, he was a cornerback in college and could be thrown in for a few plays on offense as a running back, something he did in college, too. Mostly, he’ll be used on special teams as a gunner on punts and as a kick returner. Both players have the speed and athleticism to contribute on special teams, which is where we’re likely to see them most in 2017.

Snap count projection for Evans: 0-100

Snap count projection for Wilson: 0-100

What do you think of these projections?