Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 4/7/12
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. Bengals roster loaded with first-round picks --With Manny Lawson being re-signed, there are nine former first-round picks on the Bengals defense, but only two who have been selected by the team - Rivers and cornerback Leon Hall. The other six are cornerbacks Nate Clements, Adam Jones and Jason Allen, safety Reggie Nelson, and defensive ends Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey. --A Covington, Ky., judge sentenced Jerome Simpson to 15 days in jail and three years probation on drug-related charges. The receiver, who has spent the past four seasons with the Bengals, could still be suspended for four games by the NFL for a violation of law as part of the league's drug policy. Lewis has left open the possibility of possibly re-signing Simpson, but if that happens it might only be to a one-year deal. Simpson did work out for the Rams this past week. -- With the Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow duo from the Jets and the Packers Aaron Rodgers in Cincinnati for preseason games, the list of quarterbacks coming here for games this upcoming season is impressive. Among those visiting the Bengals in the regular season are Carson Palmer (Raiders), Peyton Manning (Broncos), Eli Manning (Giants), Tony Romo (Cowboys), Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) and Joe Flacco (Ravens). --With the regular-season schedule coming out in a couple weeks, the only certainty at the moment is that the Bengals will start on the road. The Reds are home the opening week of the season. QUOTE OF NOTE: "I think in Cincinnati in all the time I've been there we've had a working relationship with the Reds. Sometimes it's been healthier than at other times. I think right now it's good. I want to keep it that way." - Mike Brown on the Bengals relationship with the Reds. Strategy And Personnel The Bengals were supposed to visit with defensive tackle Amobi Okoye this week, but that has been pushed back to next week due to the coaching staff being at Notre Dame's Pro Day. If he was to be signed, it would add yet another former first-round pick to the defense. TEAM NEEDS1. Guard: The Bengals have never drafted a guard in the first round but with Bobbie Williams and Nate Livings being free agents (Livings signed with Dallas), they need to find someone who they can plug in there for the next five years and not worry about. It would be a similar situation to tackle, where they are set with Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith. 2. Wide receiver: A.J. Green can stretch the field and provide the big plays, but now the task is finding someone to pair with him. They also need to find a dependable option on short and medium routes. 3. Defensive line: With the losses of Jonathan Fanene (New England) and Frostee Rucker (New England), the Bengals are lacking depth on a line that had the deepest rotation in the league. The Bengals have added Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey, but could continue to build depth through the draft. MEDICAL WATCH: No updates. FRANCHISE PLAYER: PK Mike Nugent (tendered at 2.654 million). TRANSITION PLAYER: None. UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS --RB Cedric Benson has three straight 1,000-yard seasons with the Bengals but offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wants to go more with a running back by committee approach which Benson has balked at. Expect both sides to have a mutual parting of the ways. --CB Kelly Jennings was mainly the corner in nickel situations once Leon Hall went down due to injury. Considering the lack of depth in the secondary, they would like to re-sign him. --LB Brandon Johnson has been a key backup at weak-side linebacker and has been one of the top players on special teams. He is looking for a multi-year deal after three straight seasons on one-year contracts. --TE Donald Lee was plagued by injuries the second half of the season but was a good mentor to Jermaine Gresham and Colin Cochart. He could return on another one-year deal. --OT Dennis Roland saw his snap counts go down this season and was mainly used as a blocking tight end. Not expected to return. --TE Bo Scaife spent all of last season on injured reserve after injuring his neck. He is not expected to be back. --WR Jerome Simpson has plenty of athletic potential and set career highs in catches (50), yards (725) and touchdowns (four), but he is also facing a four-game suspension stemming from pleading guilty to marijuana possession. Could be re-signed in May depending on the team's activity in free agency. --OG Bobbie Williams went into last season with the team's longest streak of consecutive games but ended up serving four games for a violation of the league's policy on performance enhancing substances then fractured his ankle late in the season and missed the last three games. Going into his 13th year despite being entrenched at right guard, he is not a priority to re-sign. --S Gibril Wilson saw a mix of defensive and special teams snaps after missing 2010 due to a knee injury. Could be back on a one-year deal. RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS --LS Clark Harris (tendered at 1.26M with seventh-round pick as compensation) has made 395 straight clean snaps. --LB Dan Skuta (tendered at 1.26M with no compensation) started three games in the middle last season and could be looked upon more if Rey Maualuga begins the season on suspension. EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS --S Jeromy Miles (tendered at 540,000) was used almost exclusively on special teams and led the team in tackles with 15. PLAYERS RE-SIGNED --OT Anthony Collins: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown. --DT Nick Hayden: Potential ERFA; 615,0001 yr. --CB Adam Jones: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown. --LB Manny Lawson: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown. --S Reggie Nelson: UFA; 18M4 yrs. --RB Cedric Peerman: Potential ERFA; 615,0001 yr, terms unknown. --FB Chris Pressley: Potential RFA; 2.1M2 yrs. --LB Vincent Rey: Potential ERFA; 450,0001 yr. --DT Pat Sims: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown. PLAYERS ACQUIRED --CB Jason Allen: UFA Texans; 8.2M2 yrs. --DE Jamaal Anderson: UFA Colts; 2 yrs, terms unknown. --RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis: UFA Patriots; 9M3 yrs. --DE Derrick Harvey: UFA Broncos; 1 yr, terms unknown. --OG Travelle Wharton: FA Panthers; 10M3 yrs, 3.2M guaranteed. PLAYERS LOST --WR Andre Caldwell: UFA Broncos; 1.8M2 yrs. --DE Jonathan Fanene: UFA Patriots; 12M3 yrs, 3.85M guaranteed. --OG Nate Livings: UFA Cowboys; 19M5 yrs, 6.2M guaranteed. --OG Mike McGlynn: UFA Colts; terms unknown. --DE Frostee Rucker: UFA Browns; 21M5 yrs, 8M guaranteed.
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