The Cincinnati Bengals are undergoing a youth movement at seemingly every position on defense, especially in the trenches.
That was expected when Cincinnati made 11 selections in the 2017 NFL Draft, a rarity in a draft that has only seven rounds. Because the Bengals have lost so many key players in recent years, they earned a host of compensatory picks this year.
This, in turn, allows the Bengals to find young replacements for the veteran players they lost. A trio of former fourth-round picks from the last two drafts look poised to take on relevant roles this year in Andrew Billings, Ryan Glasgow and Carl Lawson. All three players will be on the final roster and are expected to help shore up a front seven that took a step back from its normally dominant self in 2016.
Lawson has been the star of training camp with pass-rushing prowess. Billings is in a heated battle for the starting nose tackle spot. Glasgow is vying to be the first or second defensive tackle off the bench.
Veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap is excited to watch all of the team’s young guys blossom and become legitimate NFL players in Cincinnati.
“It looks like they can help us right away if you go by the tape of the preseason,” Dunlap told Bengals.com. “And it seem like they’re acknowledging it upstairs.”
Lawson is someone Dunlap has really taken a liking to. The veteran knows what it’s like to be a promising rookie edge rusher looking to make his mark. Dunlap, however, hopes Lawson doesn’t have to wait as long as he did to find his way onto the field with a big role. That’s something Dunlap had to do while sitting on the bench for the first half of his rookie season.
“Four D-ends had to get hurt before I got activated,” said Dunlap. “They still wanted to ride with the older guys. But I guess now they see young guys come and play quality snaps early and they want to do it now. You see with Carl they’ve put him in the No. 1 nickel right now.”
But while Lawson was the star in training camp, it’s been Jordan Willis and Chris Smith who’ve made the most noise in two preseason games. Those three together have Dunlap exuberant about what this pass rush can do in 2017 after it became a liability last year.
“Carl, Jordan, Chris Smith. All these young guys are getting a lot of hits on the quarterback this preseason,” Dunlap said. “And we’ve rotated them in with the ones to see if they can do it again and they’ve still been consistent. It’s going to be exciting.”
Smith was a former fifth-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars who the Bengals acquired this year for a conditional seventh-round pick, while Willis was a third-round pick this year. Seeing the Bengals rely on so many young and new guys would seem concerning on the surface, but watching all of them play this preseason, there’s more reason to be excited what this pass rush will do.
And while Dunlap didn’t get a chance right away to show what he could do until the end of his rookie year, he’s glad the Bengals are learning from their “mistakes” and seemingly going to play the rookies early and often this year.
“Learn from your mistakes,” Dunlap said of the Bengals. “That’s a good thing. If a guy can help us now, I’m all for it. Put him out there and let’s go.”
Having as much talented youth to pair with grizzled veterans should help Dunlap and Atkins get back to being the stud pass-rushers we’ve become accustomed to watching terrorize quarterbacks on Sundays.