Lukabu did an excellent job of developing rookie Germaine Pratt during the course of the season and his loss will be felt, but let’s talk about some of the options the Bengals have to replace him.
I’ll start with the most intriguing but least likely, Wade Phillips. The Rams announced that they are not renewing his contract, making Phillips available. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor of course worked with Phillips in Los Angeles, so there is a connection.
Phillips has been the defensive coordinator for many teams and the head coach of two, but he has not been a position coach since 1980. With a resume like his, linebacker coach wouldn’t do, but there is another option.
In 2018, the Dallas Cowboys brought in former Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard to coach the defensive backs coach and serve as defensive passing-game coordinator. With Richard calling the defense alongside defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli the Cowboys had a great year defensively.
What does this tell us?
It tells us that two heads are better than one, as long as neither of them gets too big.
Perhaps the Bengals could bring Phillips in to work with defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and serve as the linebackers coach and defensive running-game coordinator.
It would certainly make sense given the troubles this defense had stopping the run, and Phillips’ experience could be as invaluable to Taylor as it was to Sean McVay as he built the Rams into a contender.
It’s a long shot, but man would that be interesting to see.
The Bengals could also consider hiring a coach from the college ranks and one excellent candidate comes immediately to mind: Jim Leonard.
Leonard is an NFL veteran and currently the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at his alma mater, Wisconsin.
The Badgers have been extremely impressive this season defensively and finished the year ranked 5th nationally in yards per game. The concern with Leonard is that he has not actually coached the linebacker position, but he is a bright young coach who be up to the task.
Ohio State linebackers coach Al Washington is another rising star who also coached linebackers at Michigan and defensive line at the University of Cincinnati.
The final college coach I’ll mention is former Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. Orlando had previous stints as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at UConn, Florida International, Utah State, and Houston. Former Bengals linebacker Malik Jefferson was a blue star recruit who underachieved at The University of Texas, until Orlando arrived. Jefferson’s one season under Orlando was enough to make him a third-round pick, but he has yet to catch on in the NFL.
The fact that Orlando was able to get the best out of someone who no one else seems to be able to get much out of is a testament to him as a coach
Other People Zac Taylor Knows
Mark Duffner is an obvious option. He is on the Bengals staff, currently serving as senior defensive assistant, and worked with Taylor previously in Miami. He also coached linebackers for the Packers, Buccaneers, and Jaguars and started his career as a graduate assistant at Ohio State before becoming the defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Speaking of Miami, former Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke could make sense as well. He coached the Bengals linebackers from 2014-2015 before connecting with Taylor and the Dolphins. Prior to joining the Bengals staff he coached the Detroit Lions’ linebackers for five years and is currently defensive special assistant with the Eagles.
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo also has some interesting connections. He spent a year on the Giants staff coaching under defensive coordinator James Bettcher and alongside linebackers coach Bill McGovern.
McGovern also coached the Eagles’ outside linebackers for three seasons and was the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Boston College.