Once again, the Bengals will be starting the season without one of their best defensive players in Vontaze Burfict.
Burfict lost his appeal for his PED suspension and as a result will miss the first four games of the season. Head coach Marvin Lewis has stated that the team would be fine without Burfict.
Others outside of the team wonder if second-year player Jordan Evans is ready to step up or if the team should seek another linebacker through free agency or a trade. While the Bengals’ depth at linebacker was a concern even before the Burfict suspension, the problem goes much deeper than just having enough talent to put on the field.
For better or worse, Burfict is one of the leaders on Cincinnati’s defense. He plays with passion. Passion is something that can sometimes get him into trouble, but it also plays a key role in the success of defenses in the NFL.
When Burfict is not there, this defense lacks that passion and plays poorly. The only other player on Cincinnati’s defense in 2017 who came anywhere close to matching this was Adam Jones.
Both were missing from the 2017 season opener and the defensive unit seemed to have no heart. Not having either to start the 2018 season, could spell trouble for the Bengals.
When Burfict is on the field, he elevates the game of everyone around him. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap are veteran all-pros, but they do not inspire those around them to play with a heightened level of intensity.
William Jackson III is on the brink of becoming a star in the NFL, but does he have what it takes to place the needed demands on the defensive unit?
What the Bengals need is a voice that demands attention. They need someone who is not afraid to get in the face of every other man on the field and call him out when he is not performing at the top of his game.
Two notable additions have been made to the Bengals’ defense this off-season who could fill this void. The person who inspires intense play out of a defense does not have to be on the field.
New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s defenses always came to play in Detroit. The responsibility for getting the Bengals’ defense to play fast and physical lies squarely on his shoulders. Whether the catalyst is the coach or a player, Austin must makes sure it happens.
The other candidate is Preston Brown. During the course of his NFL career, the Bengals’ new middle linebacker has not been known for his leadership ability. In fact, at one point the Bills stopped using him as their defensive signal caller because he wasn’t a strong enough voice on the field.
The Bengals defense is lackluster without Burfict and Jones and it is not solely because of their talent. As intense and talented players who were vocal and respected by their teammates, the pair was able to push those around them to a higher level.
The Bengals need to find a new voice to inspire the defensive unit to get back to its previous form as one of the best units in the NFL.