With the NFL combine starting Wednesday, we're taking a look at positions of need and who the Cincinnati Bengals might be looking at during the combine at those positions.
Position of need: Defensive line
As we mentioned in Monday's look at the Bengals' pre-combine situation at running back and Tuesday's pre-combine look at the offensive line, there really aren't many pressing needs for the team this offseason. It's even a bit of a stretch to say that the Bengals need help on the defensive line, but depending on what happens with unrestricted free agent Michael Johnson starting next month, they may be in the market for at least one defensive end when the draft rolls around in early May. Johnson, as you're probably well aware, is coming off a year as the team's franchise player and stands to command big bucks from any number of teams when free agency begins March 11. The Bengals would like to retain the player who was one of their third-round draft picks in 2009, but it seems quite unlikely that they'll be able to afford keeping him. Even though Wallace Gilberry, Robert Geathers and Margus Hunt are expected to fill Johnson's spot in the event he does leave, the Bengals still may want to look for defensive end help with Geathers getting up in age -- he'll turn 31 during training camp while coming off a major injury. With a shortage of ends in the draft who would meet the Bengals' specifications for the right end spot, the team has greater incentive to retain Johnson and hope for a healthy and productive Geathers in August.
Three players the Bengals might be targeting (all three are expected to attend the combine)
Scott Crichton (DE), Oregon State: Currently projected as a second-rounder, Crichton may not be available when the Bengals are ready to make a pick for him late in that round. Some early projections had him sneaking into the first round. With a strong showing at the combine, that's not out of the realm of possibility, either. Whether he's around for the Bengals or not, he seems like the type of lineman who would catch their attention. At 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, he's shorter and lighter than the type of ends whom the Bengals like to sign, but he has a measure of versatility that could help him. He's built primarily for playing the edge rushing position, but he did play on occasion on his line's interior in college. Last season, Hunt and Gilberry were forced into a few snaps at defensive tackle following the loss of Geno Atkins halfway through the season.
Kareem Martin (DE), North Carolina: From a build standpoint, Martin looks the part of a Bengals defensive end. He's 6-foot-6 and weighs 272 pounds, just a shade smaller than current Cincinnati pass-rusher Carlos Dunlap. The current Bengals lineman has Martin by about 8 pounds. Last season, Martin had 11.0 sacks for the Tar Heels. In addition to finishing sacks, he's noted for his ability to disrupt passes at the line of scrimmage with his long arms. That's something that Johnson has done well, and it's a trait Bengals coaches emphasize with their linemen. Martin comes to Indianapolis with a third-round projection by many.
Taylor Hart (DE), Oregon: From a Bengals standpoint, the only apparent knock on Hart is that his combination of size (6-6, 286 pounds) and first-step attack makes him probably more suited to play defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Cincinnati, of course, boasts a 4-3 package, which doesn't require quite as much weight from its edge-rushing spots. But with a late-round projection, Hart could end up making some team feel like it's walking away with a steal. One look at his player card on ESPN's Insiders page and it's clear he possesses some of the intangibles and skills that would impress any coach. It's doubtful he ends up donning the stripes, but he might be one to watch anyway.