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LBs in the youth-veteran debate

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on July 31, 2011 – 10:49 am

The Bengals are mulling the backup linebacker situation and if there’s any case that highlights the daily internal debate between youth and experience, this is it.

Before Roddrick Muckelroy tore his Achilles Saturday night, they thought he was on the verge of backing up all the spots while reprising his role on special teams after he was runnerup to Dan Skuta for the tackling title.

With Skuta shaping up as one of the starters at outside backer, the Bengals need backers that can run and cover on special teams and while you’d love to have him for all his intangibles and leadership, Jones may not fit the bill. As a 33-year-old who has tackled the globe on TV, he’s also got a lot of NFL mileage.

Skuta has been a Mr. Everything for special teams coach Darrin Simmons, but now that he’s going to be a head-banging-first-and-second-down guy from scrimmage, he won’t be. Go young or veteran? It’s not baseball where you can send them down and develop them while the vet plays. But except for the preseason, all the games count, so how do you find out who can play without getting smoked?

Skuta, middle backer Rey Maualuga, and newly-signed outside backer Thomas Howard look to be the starters. Third-rounder Dontay Moch, a college defensive end making the switch to the outside, is the fourth guy who’ll have to be a special teams staple while he’s brought along slowly in this fast-forward preseason.

(The Bengals have two other rookies who have never played the position in a pair of undrafted defensive ends: Kentucky’s DeQuin Evans and Baldwin-Wallace’s Keith Darbul.)

So there are four locks. Now you have to find two more guys active on game day and one should be able to back up Maualuga in the middle. Vincent Rey, a free agent from Duke who flashed when he was active last year as a rookie, looks to be more suited to the outside. He’s instinctive, but can he play? There are a slew of backup special teams/linebacker types out there in free agency, but do you sign them and bench your kids?

Maybe you do, but that means Rey’s development is nipped.

Plus, there’s the unsigned Brandon Johnson, an extremely valuable third-down player and special teams player. When the Bengals won the AFC North in 2009, he may have been their most productive backer and while his play may have fallen off last year as he gamely battled some nagging injuries, the guy is your special teams captain and a valued elder. Always hard to put a specific price on that. If they can’t re-sign him, is Rey versatile enough to handle it? How do you know if you can’t play him?

So it goes as they look for two more linebackers. Are they here or elsewhere? In the end, do they return to what they know in Dhani, opting for familiarity over youth and special teams? Here we go. Five more hours to the next practice.


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Posted in Hobson's Choice | 34 Comments »


34 Responses to “LBs in the youth-veteran debate”

  1. By whodeysteve on Jul 31, 2011 | Reply

    Personally Hobson, I would love us to use the 5th round pick we got from the Ocho trade to get Wesley Woodyard. Being a Kentucky fan, I’ve watched hundreds of players go through that college and I think the best defensive player to go through there was Wesley Woodyard. They’re bigger LB’s 6-1 222 lb. They’re faster LB’s 4.49 40 yard dash. But I don’t think their is a bigger heart or better pure football player. He would proably sign a 3 year deal for a little over what the league minimum is, 1 or 2 million a year. If Marvin Lewis told him to run through a brick wall he would find a way too. If they would take the 5th for it I would do it in a heart beat cause there would be high reward and very little risk.

  2. By mwindle1973 on Jul 31, 2011 | Reply

    Are we to assume Michael Johnson as a SAM experiment is over? I know Odom is gone, but we are still paying Geathers a king’s ransom. I kind of assumed you’d see Geathers at LDE and Dunlap move to RDE, and Johnson to SAM, where he looked pretty promising in the first couple games last year. TBH the idea of Skuta as the starting SAM is scary. We are supposed to be returning to a dominant D that can shelter Dalton and the rest of the youth on the team. I really hope we can sign Brandon Johnson, he can play both outside spots and is invaluable in the Nickel. If we can find a very solid, proven SAM sign him, but is there one available? So then signing Dhani would be best. He has played all 3 spots in his career. He could definitely start at SAM, or replace Rivers at WILL for awhile, and be a team leader and bakup MIKE.

  3. By Amarillo Slim on Jul 31, 2011 | Reply

    Sign Brandon Johnson and the anxiety drops to an acceptable level for me. This will allow for Rey to show what he can do and for Rivers to recover. Also provides time for Moch to learn the ropes. Can you tell me about the role of FB in Gruden’s offense? Do they want a slobber knocker like Pressley or a guy that serves more like a 2nd TE? I’m hoping to see Chris P. on the field a lot but my gut is that value pass catching over blocking. What’s your take?

  4. By C. Lee on Jul 31, 2011 | Reply

    I’m excited about this season. I’m not thinking playoffs but a fresh start will be good. I was curious if the team has any idea about what the Commissioner might do as far as disciplining Jones and Benson? Seems like it would be a good idea to try to get an idea on what might happen to keep in mind as we get the roster together.

  5. By tmorra16 on Jul 31, 2011 | Reply

    Geoff, what are the chances the Bengals pursue Lofa Tatupu now that he has been cut by Seattle? Seems like he could be the starter and allow Skuta to play more on Special Teams.

  6. By 2ndboot on Jul 31, 2011 | Reply

    Losing Mucko really hurts, but time to move on while he heals up.. No sense crying about it..He won’t heal faster if we sit and cry. Donte Mock sure sounds promising as does Rey.. Some experience though with BJ can’t hurt so I hope they can get him to ink that paper.
    Still, as a 53 year old geezer I would stick with youth as far as possible because getting old ain’t for sissies. I’m not calling the older guys sissies, but it sure isn’t any fun getting old when young guys are nipping at your heels.
    Nate Clemens though I think will plug the hole for a year or more. That signing sure helped stop a bit of the bleeding.

  7. By mcapp1234 on Jul 31, 2011 | Reply

    Hobson, any chance the Bengals are looking at Ernie Sims or Kirk Morrison at LB? The LB corp is woefully undermanned right now.

    Are they looking to add any other free agents? Ryan Harris at OL, Donte Whitner at S? Seems like this team has quite a few holes to fill, and there a lot of decent young players available.

  8. By donnyscott on Jul 31, 2011 | Reply

    Why do you seem to be taking it for granted that Skuta will start? You mention that we don’t know if Vincent Rey can play. Do we know if Skuta can play base D? No. How can we improve our defense starting Howard, – a backup last year with the Raiders- Skuta, – an untested, undrafed college FA – and Maualuga. – a newly installed mike backer. With all the money there is to be spent, why wouldn’t we be looking for better opyions?

  9. By 303bengalguy on Aug 1, 2011 | Reply

    Moch = DE being converted to LB
    Mike Johnson = LB we converted to DE

    Just thought I’d point that out. Johnson was originally a LB right? Why not switch both back to their natural positions? Both are pretty much the same guy in a measurables sense.

    What are the chances Lofa Tatupu gives us a hard look and do we want him? I know the Pacific Isle connection is strong in Cincy, as is the USC lineage.

  10. By bengalmaniac on Aug 1, 2011 | Reply

    What is the issue with Dhani? I know he is aging, but he has been the leader on the field and knows the defense and the guys. He was pretty spot on last year in a season that the defense sputtered quite a bit. Do they think that he is out of gas?

  11. By mwindle1973 on Aug 1, 2011 | Reply

    @303bengalguy: Johnson was a DE in college. We tried to convert him to a SAM last training camp. And Michael Johnson is actually has a bigger and different frame than Moch. Moch is 6’2″ 248 lbs. He does have a long frame and arms for his height. But Johnson is 6’7″ 268 lbs, and he also has a long frame for his height. And the length of of his arms and size of his hands is downright freakish. Also Moch is quite a bit faster than Johnson, with a 4.44 40 while Johnson clocks in the 4.55-4.65 range.

  12. By jamison007 on Aug 1, 2011 | Reply

    It is real nice to hear the change of tone in the locker room. Coach Lew is right to turn the atmosphere around and it inspires me to get back 100% + 10% on my running schedule. Good to hear Simpson and Caldwell talking differently. Have fun, but be focused guys, pay attention to your feet, keep your knees up, focus on not shuffling, make each other stronger, lets look to the starting line fellas. I am gonna run my 3x4s like the bad boy accountant I am in tribute of our team, working hard, playing smart and getting tough. Who Dey!

  13. By mwindle1973 on Aug 2, 2011 | Reply

    Manny Lawson is a great fit in our scheme. He’s the first true SAM LB we have had since…well…you tell me…I guess since LeBeau was head coach. He’s a little small for our scheme. But he has that Michael Johnson like frame that you see in most SAMs. He’ll be able to jam the line and use those long arms to seperate. At 6’5″ 240 lbs one wishes there had been no lockout and we had time to bulk him up to 245-250 like we do every LB we sign. But on the other hand having 4.43 40 speed at SAM is going to be something we aren’t used to seeing. On the other side at WILL I think Rivers is going to have trouble reclaiming his job in October. Thomas Howard could arguably be one of the fastest LBs in the NFL. His 4.41 40 speed tells the tale, but word is he plays even faster. Our D roster is looking pretty good now. We could still use a safety still, but I think on both sides of the ball we have filled all the major holes that were there. Good news is we still have plenty of money. Whether we use it to sign more now or do some new deals for our own later in the season or a little of both will be seen.

  14. By mwindle1973 on Aug 3, 2011 | Reply

    One thing on the Max Jean-Gilles signing. We have him at 353 lbs. But that was his weight pre-2010. He had gastric bypass surgery in the spring of 2010. He’d always struggle dwith his weight and had gotten up to 400 lbs. He lost 55 lbs and played last year at 340-350 and reportedly has lost 30 more lbs this offseason and is somewhere in the 310-320 range. I know this we have some thick competition at G this year. Latest rumour is we are talking to former Saints MLB/Special Teamer Marvin Mitchell. I’m guessing if signed his role would be backup MLB/special teams. The D is looking great. An upgrade at S would be a nice final piece. And the good thing is after all the cutting/trading/signing to this point we are actually almost $6M lower in salary than when we started. So one point is we still have resoures left and I expect we will keep seeing players trickling in, whether it be new or old ones. But also that we should have minimum $25-$30M in cap space this season to finance the re-signing of our own guys. And it will give us the freedom to be creative with how we stack the money in future years. I must say that it’s been an impressive display of decision making by the team starting with the re-signing of Lewis through the draft and up to the current free agency period.

  15. By donnyscott on Aug 3, 2011 | Reply

    @mwndle1973: While i like the Lawson signing I’d reserve judgement on Howard. He has long been very weak against the run which is why he lost his starting spot last year. He does have great speed and is very good in coverage. I feel his signing was to replace B. Johnson’s nickel role. We still have nobody to back up Rey if he goes down in the middle and I don’t think B.Jjohnson is the answer there On the d-line we’re thin at end. We need a quality DE who can both play the run and rush the passer to spot with Dunlap and M. Johnson. Geathers, Fanene and Rucker are not that guy but I woiuld support resigning Fanene. The safety spot is a major hole waiting to happen. I don’t like the chances of Crocker staying healthy at SS. An upgrade to the younger Donte Whitner should be a no-brainer. The money has to be spent at some point this year. Might as well bring in some more legitimate players now.

  16. By mwindle1973 on Aug 3, 2011 | Reply

    I just stumbled across the fact that Jason Shirley is still under contract and practiced with the other players during the lockout. I’ve always pulled for that guy because he is a physical specimen. 6’5″ 340 lbs and very atheletic for his frame. This will be his last chance with us. One correction to my last post….I said Marvin Mitchell was a MLB. He was in college. So I assumed based on his build and lack of true speed that he still played MIKE. Actually learned he was the Saints backup WILL and Nickel LB, He was the Saints nickel linebacker because he was above average in coverage. However, it was the run plays where he shined with a +5.8 rating. So it appears he could be used in several ways. But it also appears now that we are looking at signing Mitchell or Brandon Johnson, to fill the same role. And not actually looking at signing both.

  17. By marvinlewis on Aug 4, 2011 | Reply

    Does anyone else find it funny that we had to settle for Nate Clements when we probably could have traded Palmer for Dominque-Rodgers Cromartie?…if Brown wasn’t such a petty, small-minded, incompetent GM? Yeah Mike your really showing everyone who’s boss…we lose our franchise QB and get NOTHING for it…while the Eagles and Patriots are showing why players want to go to and play for those organizations. And whatever your players say publicly, they jump at the opportunity to go elsewhere, a la J.Jo

  18. By mwindle1973 on Aug 4, 2011 | Reply

    Just found some new news. THere is no minimum cap for individual teams until 2013. We don’t have to spend up to the salary minimum until then. The details have been slow to come out and this one just did yesterday on profootballtalk.com. For 2011 and 2012 the league as a whole has to spend 99% of the cap. If they don’t they have to play the players the difference. That’s it! Begining in 2013 and beyond there will be a salary floor or minimum for all teams that will be set at 89%. But it’s unclear whether you have to use that amount of cap space or spend an amount of money on players that is equal to 89% of the cap. What’s the difference you say? If bonuses that are off the cap are included then the team can spend an amount equal to 89% of the cap without actually using up 89% of the cap. It would in essence be just like it is now. That’s kind of what Brown has been meaning all these years when he says we spend to the cap, and fans say but we have cap space left? This is why. Teams like Dallas and DC that use all there cap space, in then end spend 10-25% above the cap. That’s why Mike Brown, Ralph Wilson & the NFLPA are right. There is a revenue sharing problem in the NFL…and it again wasn’t dealt with, and won’t be for 10 years.

  19. By mwindle1973 on Aug 4, 2011 | Reply

    Too bad about Whitner. Abram Elam, was signed by the Cowboys yesterday, the Jets re-signed Brodney Pool around midnight and now Whitner is with the 49ers. I think we should pursue 49er FS Deshon Goldson, the last of the 2nd tier free agents at S. Who now says he will not re-sign with the Niners after they signed Madeiu Williams and Whitner. He has over 200 tackles, 5 ints, and 3 sacks over the last 2 seasons, while playing in all 32 games. He’s 6’2″ 200 lbs, 26 years old, and going into his 5th season with 51 games under his belt. When free agency started many media sources considered him the 4th best safety available. Behind Eric Weddle, Michael Huff & Dawan Landry. But well ahead of Donte Whitner, Abram Elam, and Brodney Pool. And there is Taylor Mays who the Niners just sent out a message to all 31 NFL teams that he is available for trade. What would it take to get him. They will be forced to cut him if not. So maybe a 5th rounder can get him. IDK what they have against him or if he’d be worth it. But at this point our options are, sign Goldson, trade for Mays, re-sign Duke or Roy Williams, wait until roster cutdowns occur and hope we can find someone from that pool of players, or simply stay put with what we have now. It’s hard to tell what will transpire. But FS right now appears to be the lone weak spot left on the roster.

  20. By mwindle1973 on Aug 5, 2011 | Reply

    RIP Paul Brown. 20 years ago today we lost one of the most important men to ever grace the NFL with his presence. It’s been a long 20 years for the franchise he left behind. Lets hope on this day that this begins 20 years of more success for the franchise and the Brown family.

  21. By mwindle1973 on Aug 5, 2011 | Reply

    Bo Scaife is a great signing. With Scaife, Coffman & Gresham at TE, we can run 2 & 3 TE sets and threaten both pass and run out of them. It also allows for some injury insurance. Not much left to add to the offense now. I suppose you could still see another Olineman come in but it’s doubtful. On D, who knows…we could be done. But if trends continue we are probably at least looking at the safeties left. Hopefully we see Fanene in here, or you may see some sort of move with a free agency to fill that gap. Other than that I think we are done. CBs are probably on the radar too, but right now not any available that upgrades what we have. We may also hold off now until September 3rd when rosters have to be cut from 75 to 53 and see what’s available then.

  22. By mwindle1973 on Aug 6, 2011 | Reply

    Wondering your impressions on some camp issues. What do you make of the battle at DE? Do you think we are going to see a platoon situation at LDE with Geathers & Dunlap? Or are we leaning more Dunlap at this point? Any chance one of these 2 moves to LDE (probably not time for that)? And is the RDE spot Johnson’s to lose at this point? Aside from DE, what about Rey @ MIKE. How is that working so far? To me if you look at this D only 2 areas would concern me. Of course the we’ve all discussed the situatioin at safety. THe other concern that could limit this D and team during the season, is Rey @ MIKE. If he doesn’t do as well as we think, we are stuck with him for a season there. And who plays his spot if he’s injured? If I’m analyzing the roster right then it would appear Dan Skuta is the only backup. Is it appear in the early going that we will make a seamless transition from Dhani to Rey? And who will fill those shoes if Rey is injured? The fact is this backup MLB issue could be a bigger issue than the lack of versatile safeties. Skuta can’t put a headset on and call the D! Crocker would have to do it from FS, and that’s not idea. What if he’s injured at the same time? Who else can even call the D at that point? Granted these are not bad problems to have. But to return to a top 10 D we will likely have to have some answers to these issues. And I think any semblance of a successful season rests on this D being as dominant or more than we were in ’09.

  23. By mwindle1973 on Aug 7, 2011 | Reply

    Good to hear the D coaches reviews of the offense so far. You had a line in their about Zimmer and Parcells, and you started me on a googlefest to determine what brand of 4-3 Zim was trained in. Going back early in his career you really can’t find a notable mentor. His early associations in college were with offensive coaches. In the NFL he coached under the Jimmie Johnson/Wannstedt/Butch Davis/Gailey/Campos conglomoration that worshipped at the Miami U 4-3 alter. In some ways his scheme resembles the Miami U 4-3, it differs greatly in others and the personnel is polar opposites. Parcells was one of the innovators of the classic 3-4. You still can see some resemblance in principal, but again a whole lot of differences too. Zim was obviouslly influenced by the late great Jim Johnson who invented the Double A gap blitz scheme in 2001. And ZIm employs it quite a bit. It appears Lewis has had some influence as well, as they are still running a 4-3 that resembles Lewis’ Ravens Ds in scheme and personnel. So it appears Zim is a bit of an orginal. Kind of like Lewis was. Taking several opposing philosphies and creating a cohesive brand of D out of it.

  24. By tepidfan31 on Aug 8, 2011 | Reply

    Depth Chart, I hope it changes. Against last year, remember 4-12, little has changed. Dalton for Palmer, Green for Ocho & TO, Clement for Joseph, Lawson & Howard for Rivers (at the moment) & Jenty (sp). What is there to be excited about, other than Green, it’s pretty much a wash.

  25. By tepidfan31 on Aug 8, 2011 | Reply

    a prediction: If Ocho stays healthy, he will have a very good year. He’ll either run the right routes (not those which so rankled Palmer) or he’ll sit. Belichick will not put up with Ocho free-lancing like Marvin did.

  26. By tepidfan31 on Aug 8, 2011 | Reply

    THE CAP On August 4th, after all teams signed their draft selections, the Bengals are $27,200,000 under the cap. Only the Bucs, Chiefs, Jaguars, and Browns are more, with the Bucs the highest at $29,600,000 under. By the way the Steelers are over the cap by $15,300,000 and have to cut. I assume that Palmer’s comp is included in the calculation, otherwise the Bengals would be about $39 million under the cap.
    Doesn’t that make you wonder why, needing a safety, that we wouldn’t have offered Whitner probably less than a $1/2 million more to secure his services? Then, what about other position upgrades? Brown has the cap to improve the team; then why not? What say you?

  27. By mwindle1973 on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    I personally think we have made some good moves this offseason. Some of it is addition by subtraction. By getting rid of overpaid/underperforming players, unwanted attitudes, and by making room for players we have been grooming to start. We’ve also added some key free agents. I don’t want us going and dropping a ton of money on the biggest free agents. We’ve spent our money wisely and picked up several players that will ikely be key contributors. The Oakland Raiders jump at every high priced vet or hyped draftee they can and doesn’t produce wins for them. Also you will all be happy to know that we are no longer first in the NFL for salary cap space. It’s not clear what the exact number is, but we appear to have about 25 M in space.

  28. By tepidfan31 on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    Remember December of 2010. I blogged that I hoped they lose their last 5 for better draft choices in each round, which was met with derision by all of you. Now, If we went 5-11 or 6-10, we would not have Green, nor Peterson, nor Jones; and in the second, not Dalton, not Kaepernick, but if a QB, Mallett. Then, you can check the other rounds.
    5-11 or 6-10 vs. 4-12 means absolutely nothing to me; they are equally dismal and unacceptable.

  29. By bengalpirate on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    When I last had the opportunity to check in on July 29th, I wondered aloud what surprise the next week would bring. I shuddered when Roddrick Muckleroy blew out his Achilles, anticipating the start of one of those injury prone pre and regular seasons we’ve seen in the past. Thankfully, so far and knock on wood, we haven’t seen the major injuries that have seemed to plague us in the past. Another surprise for me is how the linebacker corp has fleshed out and the Bengals have definitely upgraded at LB with Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard, with Rey in the middle. I applaud the fact that the front office went out and got the upgrades and replacements on defense that were needed to move us back towards a potential shutdown defense. That surprises me as well. What also pleasantly surprises me is how the team has moved on without Ocho and all his distractions. Now he’s the Patriot’s prize pupil and it makes me sick for all the potential wins we could have had, if Ocho had shown the same focus for the Bengals that he now says he has for the “Patriot way.” I guess the biggest surprise I now hope for, is to avoid the curse of the pre-season games in Detroit where we have suffered so many critical injuries. I know it is only pre-season, but baby steps, baby, baby steps. BEAT THE LIONS WHO DEY!!!

  30. By tepidfan31 on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    To mwindle
    Not to start a spat, since some of your posts are very good. But, you seem to only read your own blogs (cap), and some of you current blogs (like addition and subtraction, etc.) are identical to your blogs of last August.

  31. By mwindle1973 on Aug 9, 2011 | Reply

    I still believe Ryan Mallett was the best QB in the draft. He may have not been as ready to start on opening day like Dalton. The word already is that he has all the tools to be elite. They just want him to take a couple seasons and change his mechanics when on the move. There teaching him how to be elusive instead of fast. And Bellicheck has him dropping back from C with a bungy chord tied to his waist. And basically their going to teach him how to throw on the move, which is his only weakness. The character crap was just that…crap. The Pats had him #1 out of all QBs on their board. Because they knew he had all the physical and mental tools except he had bad mechanics and was clumsy on the move. They obviously feel they can teach him the mechanics to be successful or they wouldn’t have wasted a 3rd pick on him. I think they believe they have the heir-apparant to Tom Brady. I can’t believe the other 31 teams fell for the hype and trupmed up charges against him. After all they do their own investigations. We’ll see how he does in preseason…but I think it’s already clear by Pats reports that he’s not ready yet, but they are very enthuised by what they see in him.

  32. By mwindle1973 on Aug 10, 2011 | Reply

    @ tepidfan31 I don’t see what the problem is if I don’t read other posts, but you happen to be wrong. In fact my last post (btw it’s not called a blog it’s a post) I was commenting on Ryan Mallett after reading your comment about how we all should have listened to you about the team throwing games last year, and how lucky we were we didn’t end up with Mallett. And if your talking about me posting about the cap space right after your post about it. That’s because they only publish the posts about every other day. Also often after we comment on the Hobs post. So when I typed it your post wasn’t there to read. Other than that I have no clue why you would think I don’t read the other posts. Do you read mine. Beacause I know on August 5th I posted a RIP for the 20th anniversary of Paul Browns death. And not one person said anything about it. I was rather disappointed to not see an article on the site in tribute to him. Believe me, my allegiance to team has everything to do with Paul Brown and nothing to do with anything else. And as far as what I posted last August of last year….what have you gone back and looked up my posts from a year ago? If so stop wasting your time…if not then your just being negative.

  33. By mwindle1973 on Aug 11, 2011 | Reply

    Do you know if Friday’s game will be available online for those of us outside the Cincy viewing area?

  34. By mwindle1973 on Aug 11, 2011 | Reply

    @tepidfan31 Also, I think rather than me not reading other people’s posts…it’s much more likely they don’t read my lengthy posts. Hobs didn’t give me the nickname Windy for no reason :)

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