One area the Cincinnati Bengals wanted to improve in over the course of the offseason was adding talent and depth to the defensive line. The team took steps through free agency and the draft to do so and a week before the start of the regular season, they could already be looking for more help.
Defensive end Khalid Kareem was placed on injured reserve on Thursday after suffering a shoulder injury in the Bengals’ preseason finale. By placing Kareem on injured reserve, the fifth-round draft pick will miss the first three games. Kareem will be eligible to return if he’s healthy in Week 4 when the Bengals take on the Jaguars on Sept. 30 at Paul Brown Stadium.
The news of Kareem’s injury comes a week after head coach Zac Taylor said rookie defensive end Joseph Ossai was likely to miss the season after having surgery on his knee. The Bengals placed Ossai on injured reserve list when they announced their 53-man roster on Tuesday. With Ossai out for the year and Kareem unavailable for the foreseeable future, Cincinnati’s depth at defensive line is already in question.
“Joseph Ossai went on IR, he’ll be out for the year,” Taylor said. “That hurts you. Any positions right now on your 53-man roster is a concern if you have an injury at that spot.”
Kareem is a player defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo believed could step in and make noise with Ossai sidelined. The second-year defensive lineman played in all 16 games as a rookie and recorded 18 tackles and one sack.
As the season went on, Kareem’s role and playing time increased. He was likely to be a key contributor coming off the edge this season. Kareem impressed in his first preseason action against the Dolphins as he sacked Reid Sinnett on the opening drive before suffering the shoulder injury.
Now, Anarumo will have to get creative with how he utilizes different players on the roster to create a pass rush until Kareem gets healthy. Fortunately for the Bengals at this point, none of their starting defensive ends are dealing with any lingering injuries.
The question more so comes when looking at the depth chart behind Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. Defensive tackles Larry Ogunjobi and D.J. Reader are versatile enough to generate some interior pressure, but it’s not their primary responsibility. They’ll be focused on stopping the run, an area the Bengals hope to be significantly better at this year.
Cincinnati traded center Billy Price to the New York Giants for more defensive line help as they acquired B.J. Hill in exchange earlier this week. Hill has recorded 7.5 sacks in his four-year NFL career.
Cam Sample, a fourth-round pick, will be called on to play a bigger role as will undrafted free agent Darius Hodge who showed he’s capable of making plays in the preseason. Hodge signed with the Bengals as a linebacker and switched positions after a few weeks.
Anarumo has also shown he’s more than willing to utilize blitzes from his defensive backs to get pressure. Von Bell, Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie could all get some surprise looks thrown their way.
Taylor and Anarumo will certainly be busy over the next week as they put their pressure packages together for the season-opener against the Minnesota Vikings.