In a transaction identical to last year, the Bengals brought it a veteran middle linebacker coming off the conclusion of his rookie contract.
Last year, it was Kevin Minter, and now Preston Brown has taken his spot. Minter underwhelmed last season at the position, but Brown has looked like the upgrade the Bengals were looking for this year. It appears that Marvin Lewis has taken notice as well.
“[Brown has] just been great, as I said. Everything about him — the way he approaches the game, the way he’s prepared, the way he has trained the entire offseason, I’ve been very pleased.” Lewis said during his press conference this week.
Brown has clearly put his best foot forward. He is only signed here for one year, and he likely knows he is playing for either a chance at being re-signed this offseason or a new deal somewhere else.
We have heard all offseason of how vocal Brown has been on the defensive side of the ball, but he has also been great for the younger players behind him on the depth chart.
“He’s one of the first guys in the building every day. There’s a mentorship he brings, because he has younger guys that look to that,” Lewis said. “They’ve got Vincent Rey, Vontaze Burfict and so forth, but when you look at the rest of the group, they are fairly young. You see how Preston goes about his business every day.”
It is never a bad time to have a guy like that on your team. Someone who is prepared to put in that extra work is a vital to any position group. It is an attitude that can become contagious, especially among younger players.
Despite Lewis’ gushing over Brown, fans should keep their expectations tempered on what he will be able to do on defense next season. After all, we are only one season removed from the Minter experiment.
But this is by no means an attack on Brown’s talent, it’s more looking at the logistics of the way the NFL is played today, and we can use Minter’s season as an example.
First off, what many fans consider the base defense in the NFL — three line backers and four defensive backs — is far more of a rarity. Teams play with far more three receiver sets or have that matchup nightmare in the slot that forces teams to play with five defensive backs. This means teams will only play two off-ball linebackers for the majority of the time.
Last season, the Bengals showed that when Nick Vigil was healthy, he was a guy they liked to have out there in nickel defense. Then when Vontaze Burfict returned from injury he was the other nickel linebacker.
This left Minter as the odd man out. After Burfict returned from suspension, Minter only had two games with over 30 snaps. Once was against the run heavy Bills, and the other was against Chicago when the team was heavily injured at that position.
To put things in perspective, Minter played 198 defensive snaps (17.8 percent) in his nine games. Darqueze Dennard — the team’s nickel corner — played 899 snaps (78.45 percent) with a full season of play. Dennard only played less than 50 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps once, while Minter only played more than 50 percent of the snaps once last season.
Brown is in a very similar situation where he will have the first four games without Burfict around, but after that can he be the teams’ nickel linebacker over Burfict or Vigil?
It could end up being the deciding factor between whether we see another nonexistent season from a veteran linebacker or Brown possibly being a key target for the Bengals in the offseason.