The Cincinnati Bengals knew they needed to get better on defense after a 4-11 finish to the 2020 season.
It didn’t take long for the team to address their needs as they made the mission clear when they used the free agency period to sign five veteran players. Four of the five new additions are expected to start on defense this season. Defensive end Trey Hendrickson, cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, cornerback Mike Hilton and right tackle Riley Reiff joined the Bengals on March 19.
Cincinnati Bengals: Why Lou Anarumo made schematic changes to the defensive line
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is heading into his third season in Cincinnati. The hope is after finishing no higher than No. 19 in any defensive category last year, the new additions, key players returning from injury and the comfort across the board with the scheme will help elevate the group.
Prior to the season, Anarumo previewed the Bengals’ defense in a Q&A with the Enquirer’s Kelsey Conway.
Enquirer: Starting up front with the defensive line, how do you think the group is coming together?
Anarumo: So far so good. The development of the younger guys and the new guys that we’ve added has shown up. Unfortunately, we lost Joseph it looks like … he was going to be a key component to that, but now other guys will have to step up and fill in. There are other players who have come back from injury, D.J. Reader, Renell Wrenn, those guys will be good run stoppers. Larry Ogunjobi adds to the pass rush and obviously Trey Hendrickson.
E: Who do you think can step up and replace the production you were hoping to get from Ossai?
A: We’ll see, we’re still working for that. Darius Hodge has done some nice things but is still a very young player. Khalid Kareem, we’ll see where he’s at, he’s got a little shoulder thing. We’re hopeful for guys like that to step up.
Question: How do you think you’re run defense looks so far?
Anarumo: So far in training camp I’ve been happy with what guys have been doing. These guys are all working together. They’ve meshed really well quickly. That helps when you’re doing stuff like that. We always say it takes 11 to stop the run.
Question: Do you think the AFC North has the best rushing attacks in the NFL?
Anarumo: Pittsburgh over the last couple of years has been OK but traditionally they know how to run it. I think it’s got to be one of the tougher ones if not the best in our league.
Question: Do you spend extra time in the offseason on the Browns, Ravens and Steelers run games?
Anarumo: Yes, to answer to your question. A lot of our cut ups and plans that we do is based on the AFC North. Whether it be a turnover study, or any study that we’re doing, not just what they’re doing on offense but across the board how are these guys doing that? Really, really driving home on knowing these guys like the back of our hand. We do a bunch of different studies. We study these guys in depth.
Question: How are your linebackers playing?
Anarumo: I think this group in particular is a super tight knit (group). From Logan to Germaine Pratt, Markus Bailey, Jordan Evans, Akeem, they have all really worked well together. They know they’re battling for play time and that’s shown out here. And oh, by the way, Joe Bachie and Keandre Jones have done a terrific job in their chance when they’ve played. So, we feel like we have depth there, we feel like those guys are working their butts off and feel good about them.
Question: With so many new faces in the secondary, how do you think the group is gelling?
Anarumo: I feel like the guys we’ve added, Mike Hilton, Trae Waynes who didn’t play for us at all last year and Chido Awuzzie has been really, really good. And then you add depth, some guys have been hurt with Eli Apple and Jalen Davis has had a good camp. I feel good about that, we’ve just got stay healthy. If they stay healthy, they have played well and covered well in training camp and it’s showed up in the games so far.
Question: Have Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie exceeded your expectations?
Anarumo: They both have exceeded my expectations for sure, they’re great human beings, they’re great men and oh by the way, they happen to be really good football players too. They have definitely done some things that I say, ‘OK, that’s pretty darn good.’
Question: How are Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates looking?
Anarumo: Vonn and Jessie, they are playing well, it’s been that kind of camp where you so you can say those that. In their second year together, they’re meshing. Sometimes they don’t even have to look they know, ‘I know where Jessie is on this play or not.’ Or last year, it was like, is he going to be there? Or isn’t he? And then adding Ricardo Allen to the group with his leadership and his experience really with all the things he’s seen we’re going to be able to work him into some things as well.
Question: Is there one position group are particularly excited about?
Anarumo: I am excited to see the new defensive backs go out there and show what they can do along with who’s going to be other rusher? How’s that going to play out? I think it’s going to be fine. But I am super excited to watch Mike Hilton blitz off the edge, all of the different things we’re going to do. The flexibility that all of the new guys (we) added allows us to do so much more. I’m most excited about that as a group.
Question: How do you feel about the defense as a whole heading into the season and is it different than how you felt last year?
Anarumo: Every year you’re super excited, you’ve planned out training camp and the preseason. You’ve always got a clear vision of what it should look like. I think it looks a little bit more like it this year. I love coming to work with these guys every day.
Question: What do you hope when opposing coordinators turn on tape they say about your defense?
Anarumo: A physically imposing team. A team that doesn’t hurt themselves, a really smart group. A team that plays really fast. In that order, those three things for sure. We hang our hats on that.
Question: Who is an under the radar player you think will make an impact this season?
Anarumo: Akeem Davis-Gaither has had a hell of a camp. I can’t see him not out there performing in some role at some point making plays just because he’s had such a great camp. He’s a tireless worker, he’s really had a great camp.