Carlos Dunlap may be entering a contract year, but his goal for the season is about the unit, not the individual.
In 2017, it would have taken 56.5 sacks to surpass the Pittsburgh Steelers’ league-leading mark of 56. In 2018, it could be even more, but Dunlap thinks they have the group to get it done.
“This is one of the best d-lines I’ve been a part of pass-rushing wise,” Dunlap stated about his teammates up front. The group includes veterans like himself and Michael Johnson on the edge along with one of the games best interior pass-rushers in Geno Atkins and some new faces.
Carl Lawson had 8.5 sacks as a rookie in 2017 and now looks to build on that early success. Jordan Willis only had one sack in his rookie season, but is an incredible athlete who had 11.5 sacks in his senior year at Kansas State.
Never to be satisfied, the Bengals added another young pass rusher by selecting Sam Hubbard out of Ohio State in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Hubbard had 13.5 sacks in his final year in Columbus, and over eight sacks in each of his three seasons.
“We’ve definitely got depth.” said Dunlap. “This is one of the few times we’ve had this many guys that can get after it as 1A and 1B.”
In the Bengals’ preseason opener, Dunlap, Lawson, Johnson, Willis, and Hubbard all saw time on the edge. But Johnson, Wills, and Hubbard also got a chance to rush the passers from the interior.
Aligning one of these three up at defensive tackle in passing situations puts more talented pass rushers and more speed on the field. It will put more pressure on the opponents guards and centers and may open up more sack opportunities for Atkins.
And it is not just about getting sacks. The Bengals have emphasized all offseason that they want to create more turnovers and Marvin Lewis specifically said that they needed to to cause fumbles around the quarterback. Sacks and quarterback pressures correlate to turnovers.
The pass-rush showed some promise in the preseason opener and they are hoping to get a boost after a visit from the team’s unofficial pass-rush consultant Chuck Smith. Smith played for Bengals defensive line coach Jacob Burney with the Carolina Panthers at the end of his career. He brings a different perspective to the defensive line, which Dunlap appreciates.
“I like having a different set of eyes watching me.” Dunlap explains. “He has 58 sacks in this league, so he knows how to rush the passer. I like hearing the experts.”
Since retiring from the NFL, Smith has a pass-rush school called Chuck Smith Training Systems and Lawson spent a couple of days with him this offseason.
“He’s got wonderful knowledge about all of the pass rush, not just one thing,” Lawson said.
The Bengals have shown with their last two drafts that they are emphasizing the pass-rush. They have a lot of talented players on the edge, and if one or two of them could bump inside it could be a major boost to their chances of leading the league in sacks in 2018.