For the past couple years the Bengals linebacking unit has been average. While a member of that unit has led the team in tackles the past four seasons, there haven't been many notable plays.
Whether or not things will change this upcoming season remains to be seen, but there have been some shakeups during the offseason to try and get them to play better.
The first happened in February when Paul Guenther replaced Jeff FitzGerald as linebackers coach. FitzGerald, whose contract was not renewed, was with the Bengals for four seasons but his players were mostly out of position or thinking instead of reacting. When he took the job, Guenther said the first thing he was going to stress to the linebackers was to play freer instead of overanalyzing.
The second big change is that Zimmer appears to want his outside linebackers to rush the passer more. Zimmer made those intentions known after Manny Lawson was re-signed to a one-year deal on March 30.
Said Zimmer of Lawson: "He was very good against the run and in coverage, and this year I think we can take better advantage of him as a pass rusher."
In his first season in Cincinnati, Lawson was adjusting to a 4-3 scheme after five years in a 3-4 in San Francisco. Lawson was considered to be a pass rusher with the Niners but Zimmer left most of that to his defensive line.
Lawson admitted that the first half of the season was a big learning curve but that he felt more confident as the year went along.
"There's a little more cushion where in the past I was playing right on the line of scrimmage," Lawson said. "Now that I have had a season in the defense I can just go out and continue to improve."
Lawson, who started every game last season, was fifth on the team in tackles (78) and had 1.5 sacks. He also ranked fourth in tackles-for-loss (seven). His career totals include 16 sacks, eight forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and 18 passes defensed.
The other player who the Bengals have high hopes for as a pass rusher is Dontay Moch, who didn't see any action his rookie year. Moch, a third-round pick, broke his foot in the first preseason game and was behind once he returned in October. Moch then had migraine problems that head coach Marvin Lewis is hopeful that those have been worked out.
There remain two other questions though with the group - can Rey Maualuga improve at middle linebacker, especially going into the final year of his rookie contract and what is the status of Keith Rivers? Rivers was out all last season due to a wrist injury, but no one may know until training camp whether it is fully healed.
The other concern for Rivers is Thomas Howard, who took over his spot and ended up leading the team in tackles. With the play of Howard, who Lewis called one of the more athletic linebackers he has coached, there remains a possibility that Rivers could be released.
Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.