The Cincinnati Bengals dominated the 2013 defensively. Finishing with the fifth most effective passing and rushing defense allowing only 209 passing yards per game and 96.5 rushing yards per game. The Bengals only allowed opponents an average of 19.5 points per game, tied for the fourth least in the NFL.
Bengals fans can rest assured; Cincinnati coaches know their craft. With Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga locked in as the starter, the largest battle will take place at strong side linebacker.
Defensive coaches will be inspecting the linebackers under a sharp eye this training camp and preseason. Here are the players fans should pay attention to.
Rey stepped up last season tremendously when he filled in for the injured Maualuga. Rey far exceeded expectations of him in just three and a half games, totaling 31 tackles, three sacks and an interception. Rey is a solid player against the run, a bright star on the field against the pass. Since the Bengals appear in the nickel defensive formation the vast majority of the time, Rey will be given the first look to cover opposing tight ends. Rey is far and away the favorite to win this position battle.
Realistic outlook: Starter. It will be a shock if Rey doesn’t earn the strong side linebacker role.
Last preseason, Schaffer impressed fans and coaches alike finishing as the teams top tackler. His strong showing in the preseason earned him appearances in nine games last season. Unfortunately, Schaffer only registered five tackles during his time on the gridiron. Schaffer will have to perform just as well in this year’s preseason if he wants to have another shot as a backup.
Realistic outlook: Second or third-string linebacker. Will play on special teams.
The 2013 undrafted free agent played sparingly last season, but still commanded attention. DiManche earned only 18 tackles, but Cincinnati fans will remember his momentum-shifting blocked punt against Cleveland. DiManche could turn out to be a training camp causality, or he may turn out to earn a role on special teams. DiManche must establish himself again on special teams if he wants a role on the team this year.
Realistic outlook: Special teams contributor. May compete for a backup position next season.