Bengals' post-draft depth chart: Defense

OK, it's only late May, and the Cincinnati Bengals still haven't held an offseason organized team activity (OTA). Still, that doesn't mean we can't try to break down their depth chart.

Now that the draft is over and a few additional signings have been made, we're spending this week looking at the three phases of Cincinnati's game, and taking a stab at how the team's position-by-position rotations may look when training camp opens July 24 (NOTE: the original date was July 23, but the Bengals last week pushed the camp's start back a day).

After looking at offense Monday, we're breaking down the defense:

Defensive end

1. Carlos Dunlap (LE)

2. Wallace Gilberry (RE)

3. Margus Hunt

4. Robert Geathers

5. Will Clarke

6. Sam Montgomery

7. Dontay Moch

8. Christo Bilukidi

9. David King

Analysis: Nine defensive ends? Well, not technically. Montgomery and Moch could play hybrid end-outside linebacker roles depending upon the schemes they are part of when on the field. Not to mention, there's a strong chance not all of the players listed above will make it to the regular season. For now, though, Dunlap seems likely to retain his starting left end spot, while the right end position could really be anyone else's for the taking at this point. That was where Michael Johnson primarily played before signing with Tampa Bay earlier this preseason. Gilberry seems like the logical choice for now at right end, with Hunt, Geathers and Clarke as possible options to mix in with him. Hunt and Clarke may be the future at the position, but Gilberry is a proven veteran who performed well getting to the quarterback last season.

Defensive tackle

1. Geno Atkins (NT)

2. Domata Peko

3. Devon Still

4. Brandon Thompson

5. Ogemdi Nwagbuo

6. Zach Minter

7. Larry Black

Analysis: Like at the end position, the Bengals are deep on the line's interior. It's likely at least one of the seven tackles won't make it to the season opener, but the rest of the core group will be there. It's a group that should be led during the preseason by Atkins, the nose tackle who missed half of last season because of an ACL tear. While Atkins hasn't been in the most talkative of moods this offseasons, all signs seem to be pointing toward him returning to full health sometime during training camp. Still and Thompson remain the top two tackles off the bench behind Atkins and Peko, and Black is a player many around Cincinnati likely will be rooting for following his training-camp leg injury last season. The Cincinnati native's raw, emotional response to the injury was a memorable part of the first episode of last year's HBO "Hard Knocks."

Outside linebacker

1. Vontaze Burfict (Will)

2. Vincent Rey (Will)

3. Emmanuel Lamur (Will)

4. Jayson DiManche (Sam)

5. Sean Porter (Sam)

6. Bruce Taylor (Sam)

7. Brandon Joiner (Will)

8. Marquis Flowers (Will)

Others: James Davidson (Sam)

Analysis: With spread-style offenses becoming so prevalent in the NFL, a team can never have enough defenders who can cover receivers, tight ends and running backs. The Bengals learned that the hard way last season when Lamur went down with a season-ending injury at the end of preseason camp. The injury took away the team's most athletic cover linebacker, and forced a few roles to change. Since the Bengals are almost in constant nickel packages, they want each of their linebackers to have some coverage ability. They also want them to be able to step up and tackle in run support. For that reason, the "Sam" and "Will" tags may at times be interchangeable, specifically as they try to find a true "Sam" in the wake of James Harrison's release in March. As a result of the incessant use of nickel defense, Harrison wasn't on the field much during his only season in Cincinnati.

Middle linebacker

1. Rey Maualuga

2. J.K. Schaffer

Analysis: Maualuga and Schaffer aren't the Bengals' only interior linebackers. Burfict may play inside, depending upon the situation. Rey could, too. So might DiManche. While the focus is on having linebackers who can cover and help counter this pass-first offenses, there still is great importance on having a player who can help set the defense. Burfict did much of that last season, despite technically playing an outside linebacker position. Maualuga was a leader on the inside throughout the year, too, and expects to be again this year.


1. Leon Hall

2. Terence Newman

3. Adam Jones

4. Dre Kirkpatrick

5. Darqueze Dennard

6. R.J. Stanford

7. Chris Lewis-Harris

8. Brandon Burton

9. Lavelle Westbrooks

Analysis: This is one position that could easily look much different by the start of September. Hall anticipates being healthy from an Achilles tear just in time for the start of camp, meaning the Bengals will have their starting corner by Week 1. He's also their best slot corner option, meaning he'll be on the field often with Newman and Jones, who will be playing the two boundary corner spots. The rest of the depth chart after Dennard, a rookie, could look very different by July.


1. Reggie Nelson

2. Danieal Manning

3. George Iloka

4. Taylor Mays

5. Shawn Williams

Analysis: It's hard to rank the safety rotation because it will primarily be just that, a rotation. Aside from Nelson, who will be playing a safety role that permits him to blitz and rush up at times, the Bengals will have a revolving door at safety and the hybrid safety/slot corner position that Chris Crocker ended up playing last year, and that Manning will take on this season. Iloka, Mays and Williams could all be used in deep zone or tight man coverage. With new co-defensive backs coach Vance Joseph on board, the Bengals' secondary will be worth watching.