The Cincinnati Bengals undoubtedly opened the checkbook the last two years to improve their pass rush. On top of signing D.J. Reader, Trey Hendrickson, and Larry Ogunjobi, they also drafted Khalid Kareem, Joseph Ossai, and Cameron Sample to play with incumbent leader Sam Hubbard.
It’s a unit that simply has to perform better in defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s third season running the defense. Anarumo seems to have a plan in place for his top rushers, but he knows the preseason is a time to try out different things as well.
“We are still feeling all that out, [putting] guys in different spots,” Anarumo told reporters Tuesday. “This is the time to do it. You didn’t have this last year. We are kind of feeling this guy might be better here or there. We are going to keep moving guys around all preseason just to see what they are best at.”
Early returns of Anarumo’s new-look d-line are positive. Hendrickson and Ossai sacked Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady on the sixth play of last Saturday’s preseason game. Brady was nearly sacked two plays prior when Reader got through and pressured the seven-time champion right before a deep incompletion.
Cincinnati put the pressure on Tampa Bay’s passers all night long, which is good news for Anarumo’s depth up front. Even veteran reserve Amani Bledsoe and undrafted rookie Darius Hodge got into the pocket on multiple occasions.
The on-going experimentation has more to do with where to play the younger players. Hubbard, Hendrickson, Reader, and Ogunjobi are locked in as starters. Ossai, when he returns, will be a pivotal edge piece on third downs/second-and-long situations, and Sample looks to be finding a role next to him as an interior rusher.
Flying under the radar seems to be Josh Tupou, who got the start Saturday in place of the recovering Ogunjobi. The Bengals are making it abundantly clear he’s on track to make the team after he opted out last year. Tupou, now a fourth-year vet, may not provide much value as a pass-rusher, but his standing on the depth chart may impact how the position group becomes finalized.
For the first time in three years, Anarmuo and his staff look to have the personnel to execute their plans. Now it’s time fit some round pegs into round holes.