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Bengals DT Chris Baker working to return to his 2015-16 production

Chris Baker is working to prove the Bengals were right to take a shot on him.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals are no strangers to picking up players who took a year off in Tampa Bay.

They once brought back Michael Johnson after he split from Cincinnati for a season. Johnson had quite the solid career once he came back to Ohio, and now the Bengals are hoping they can do the same with defensive tackle Chris Baker.

Baker took a long time to really settle into the NFL. It wasn’t until 2015 that his career really started to take off and he had six sacks with the Washington Redskins. That was his sixth season in the NFL (he was out of the league in 2011).

In his final two seasons with Washington, he had 9.5 sacks and entered free agency as quite the target. He ended up cashing in with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it was clear the change in scenery didn’t do wonders for Baker.

Baker is happy to have another chance at NFL success with the Bengals after the Bucs released him.

“I didn’t play as well as I needed to play and didn’t play to the standard that I know I can play at,” Baker told Geoff Hobson of “But I’m happy to be here and have a fresh start. I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m down to 305 and I haven’t been this light since college.”

That is great start to show how committed Baker is to this opportunity. He is on a one-year deal with Bengals, which means he is auditioning for free agency next season. A huge reason Baker got this opportunity with the Bengals has to do with his connections with the coaching staff. Bengals’ defensive line coach Jacob Burney coached him in Washington.

“Chris is really athletic,” Burney said, according to Hobson. “He’s a big man that can move. He’s got his weight down and he’s feeling good, so we’re expecting him to be what he was a couple of years back.”

The Bengals could really use that version of Baker. Cincinnati has been trying to fill the position next to Geno Atkins for a while. Last season, the combination of Andrew Billings, Pat Sims, Ryan Glasgow and a bunch of defensive ends who were kicked inside during pass rushing situations were used to try and take advantage of the spot next to one of the league’s best interior pass rushers. No one really jumped out.

The team also went to more of a rotational approach with the defensive line. This allowed players like Atkins to stay fresher, but the product on the field without him suffered. If Baker can return to his 2016 form, it will add another pass rusher along the interior that this team has seriously been lacking. This could create a situation where pass rushing doesn’t suffer an incredible amount when Atkins takes a breather.

Atkins finished 2017 with nine sacks. The rest of the defensive tackles combined for just half of a sack. Now obviously some pass rushing snaps were given to guys like Johnson, Chris Smith and Jordan Willis, but only half of a sack is still terrible. Baker would be a huge step up from that.

One thing is for sure: If Baker can fulfill his end of the bargain by returning to that same kind of player we saw in 2015 and 2016, then the Bengals will surely give him every opportunity to show off his talents.