The fourth installment of Bengals Breakdown will focus on the linebacker position for the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals.
The linebacking corps is one of the most interesting aspects of the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals. While the defensive line is the strength of the defense, there are still some question marks at the second level.
The addition of James Harrison caught a lot of people by surprise during the offseason. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year brings a lot of experience and veteran leadership to a relatively young defense. He certainly wasn’t the same player during his final season in Pittsburgh, but he won’t be asked to do as much for the Bengals.
Harrison will be the opening day starter at one of the outside linebacker positions and should have ample opportunities to rush the quarterback. It will be interesting to see how much Harrison has left in the tank. He is 35 years old and coming off an injury prone 2012 season.
With that being said, Mike Zimmer loves to utilize multiple packages and should find plenty of ways to play to the strengths of James Harrison.
Furthermore, Harrison is still considered one of the hardest hitters in the league and undoubtedly brings an intimidation factor with him to Cincinnati.
As of now, Rey Maualuga will be the opening day starter at middle linebacker. Maualuga became a frequent scapegoat for Bengals fans everywhere this past season, and rightfully so. He was downright awful in the loss to Houston during the wild card round last year. In addition to multiple missed tackles, he allowed multiple catches to running backs and tight end across the middle of the field.
Despite these deficiencies, the Bengals believed in him enough to sign him to a two year deal during the offseason. Maualuga remains a key contributor on defense and he will need to improve for the linebacking corps to be taken seriously in 2013.After an extremely productive rookie season in 2012, Vontaze Burfict will be the third starting linebacker when the Bengals open the season on September 8th in Chicago. Burfict led the team in tackles with 174 last season and was an instant fan favorite in Cincinnati.
Burfict plays hard and fast. He is the most explosive member of the linbacking corps and should improve coming off his first year in the NFL. There has been speculation he could surpass Maualuga at the middle linebacker position, but he still seems a bit raw to be in command of the defense.
There is no doubt the linebacking corps is talented. They have a nice blend of youth and experience to go with a dominant front line.
The biggest question mark will be the progression of Rey Maualuga and if James Harrison can provide a sense of leadership to Maualuga and Burfict.
Expect another big year from Vontaze Burfict and look for a rejuvenated and angry James Harrison to be a dominant tag team in the AFC North.