It hasn’t been that long since the joke around the NFL was no one wanted to coach the Bengals’ defense after it finished ranked dead last in the NFL the season before. It seemed like plenty of possible hires were wary of leaving their current jobs or hitching their wagon to new head coach Zac Taylor and the Bengals.
The jokes didn’t really stop when the team hired former Giants secondary coach Lou Anarumo to fill the defensive coordinator position. The Bengals hope to be the ones laughing, as the defense has become the talk of training camp rather quickly, and players have been quick to sing Anarumo’s praises.
“I think the biggest thing was Lou holding us accountable as a defense,” safety Jessie Bates III told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “I know we came out a little sluggish. I mean, we came out with a lot of energy but we were making a lot of mistakes. And I think Coach Lou got us all huddled up and held us accountable, and we finished the day off very strong.”
Bates hasn’t been afraid to throw the word accountability around this offseason, which leads to questions over what was happening last season under former defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. It seems Anarumo is bringing a little bit of that old school fire you expect from coaches. That is something pretty much every NFL defense still needs.
Even as the NFL keeps cracking down on how hard defenses can actually hit, defenses still need that fire for the little things like making tackles. That fire has seemed to spread to the players during training camp, according to Hobson:
The defense couldn’t take anyone to the ground, but the coaches wanted them to “thump,” the ball carrier. Vigil, on the sidelines when he saw one of the rookies finesse a run play, barked, “This isn’t April. The pads are on.”
Expect Nick Vigil to be one of starting nickel linebackers during the regular season. Statements like that will help secure his spot. Linebacker is a touchy subject for Bengals fans though. Aside from Vontaze Burfict’s first two seasons in Cincinnati, the linebackers have been one of the weakest links on the entire team.
It is no secret that the NFL has become more of a passing league, and tight ends and running backs have become more likely targets when teams take to the air. However, Cincinnati seemed to miss that memo as the speed at that position has been lacking. The hope is that Anarumo’s new defense can somehow help the unit that really only added rookie Germaine Pratt and cut Burfict. There is one thing they have been doing right, though.
“I heard some great communication from the linebackers today,” Taylor said. “There are a couple of different guys who did it. That’s what we’re looking for, that leadership to step up and be vocal. I saw that today at that position. I saw a lot of guys get lined up trying to help other guys with their keys so that’s what we need some guys to step up and be vocal and not be afraid to communicate and I saw a couple of guys do that today.”
It is early in training camp, but it still feels slightly ominous that the best compliment we hear about a unit that is struggling is their communication skills. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for now, though. This just seems like a quote that will be looked back on as an omen if things go south for the linebackers early.
Even with all of that, the tone the defense is playing with seems to be totally different. Last year, there were times when they looked either lost, soft or a mixture of both. Missed assignments were as common as missed tackles, but so much of that seemed to be easily pinned to s questionable (at best) defensive system. Anarumo has seemed to reinvigorate a defense that hasn’t been itself for a few seasons now.
Hopefully, their success during training camp is a sign of things to come.