An impressive performance in their exhibition opener in Atlanta has made a difficult decision even more difficult for the coaching staff of the Cincinnati Bengals. Even though the enthusiasm can be tempered by the fact that it was just one preseason contest, the roster cuts for the Bengals are not going to be easy. This is especially true on the defensive side of the ball, where defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is blessed with an abundance of depth that barring injury could turn out to be one of the league’s top units.
People are already aware of the talent on the Cincinnati defensive line, where Zimmer’s rotation wreaked havoc on offenses in 2012 and picked up right where they left off in Atlanta last week. The Bengals’ first team defense held the high-scoring Falcons first team offense to just three points on three possessions and forced Atlanta into four three-and-outs in 11-game possessions.
“I thought we worked pretty consistently out there on defense, both starters and reserves,” said Head Coach Marvin Lewis after the game.
On the defensive line, the core group of Geno Atkins, Robert Geathers, Domata Peko, Wallace Gilberry, Michael Johnson, and Carlos Dunlap remain intact, but there are other lineman lurking on the depth chart who could make an impact. Rookie second-round pick Margus Hunt was in on a lot of snaps in Atlanta and showed promise. It was Hunt who was chasing down Falcons quarterback Dominique Davis, forcing Davis to make a bad throw resulting in an interception. Second year man Devon Still also made some positive steps.
At the linebacker position, an interesting battle is shaping up for one of the final roster spots. The coaches are very high on undrafted free agent Jayson DiManche and he played well in Atlanta, looking to be the 2013 version of Vontaze Burfict. J.K. Shaffer, signed as a free agent midway through 2012, led the team in tackles and threw a crucial block on the 71-yard punt return for a score by Dane Sanzenbacher.
From his performance in Atlanta, “bad man” James Harrison looks ready to go and seemed to constantly be in the Falcon backfield. Emmanuel Lamur seems to be all over the field at times and likely has a roster spot locked up. Facing the critics, Rey Maualuga is primed to have a big year and leave 2012 far in the rear-view mirror. Also in the mix and providing depth at the position will be Aaron Maybin, Vincent Rey, Brandon Joiner, and rookies Bruce Taylor, Sean Porter, and Jordan Campbell.
The secondary performed well in Atlanta with Brandon Ghee again dealing with the injury bug as he left the game with a concussion after making a nice interception. Last year’s first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick has looked sharp in practice and that carried over to the field against the Falcons. The first depth chart released by the team lists Leon Hall and Terence Newman as the number one corners, backed up by Ghee and Adam Jones, Kirkpatrick will surely move up on that list and keep an eye on rookies Shaun Prater and Onterio McCalebb, while Coach Lewis has praised the work in practice of second-year man Chris Lewis-Harris.
At the safety spot, George Iloka is listed as the starting strong safety on the depth chart and held his own in Atlanta. Reggie Nelson holds down the free safety spot and may be one of the keys to the entire Bengal defense with his leadership and experience.
The backups at safety to this point are Taylor Mays and Jeromy Miles, with Miles almost certain to be on the roster because of his work on special teams. Rookie Shawn Williams stumbled at times in the exhibition opener but the coaching staff still likes his ability to apply the “big hit.”
However this all plays out in the next three weeks, it is obvious that the Bengals defense has the potential to be something special. The all-around depth will make a lot of roster decisions tough to make and it is safe to say that players who are now wearing orange and black who don’t make the cut will end up in another team’s uniform.
The talent is that good.