Cincinnati Bengals Defensive Position Battles in Training Camp (2nd Ed.)

Tom MirickCorrespondent IJune 20, 2009

PASADENA, CA - DECEMBER 6:  Rey Maualuga #58 of the USC Trojans reflects after celebrating with the band and fans following the victory against the UCLA Bruins on December 6, 2008 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  USC won 28-7.  (Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)

SAM Linebacker

Certainly one of the biggest position battles to watch besides fullback is the battle for the SAM linebacker.

I am sure that the battle between Rey Maualuga and Rashad Jeanty will be heavily documented by HBO’s Hard Knocks this year at Georgetown, Kentucky.

Ironically Rashad Jeanty is nicknamed “Hard Knocks” because of his ferocious hits, and being one of the Bengals' toughest players, last year’s starter, and the favorite to win the starting job.

Last year Rashad was honored with the Ed Block courage award for playing with plantar fasciitis for the majority of the season.

Enter stage left the Bengals second-round pick, fiery USC MLB Rey Maualuga. Rey seemingly fell from the heavens and into the Bengals lap at pick No. 38.

Just about every heart in Bengals nation let out a sigh of disappointment when Denver traded up for the 37th pick, and the party began as Denver announced it selected Alphonso Smith CB Wake Forest.

Maualuga will not be happy playing second fiddle to anyone, so look for him to make the coach’s play him by bringing his game-changing attitude, and delivering his signature bone-crushing hits.

Rashad Jeanty speaking after practice paid Maualuga a compliment…Well sort of.

“The only thing different between us is I think Rey is crazy,” Jeanty said.

“He goes in there to lay down somebody. He goes in, handles his business.

"He’s got a few screws loose. I think my head is pretty tight. He’s a cool dude. He’s a funny dude. He is definitely a great asset to the team this year. I look forward to working with him.”

I am going to training camp and cannot wait to watch Jeanty and Maualuga try to out hit each other to impress the coaches. It will definitely be worth the hour and thirty minute drive to Georgetown.


Defensive Line (9)

The line I am going to do as a unit, and not a specific position battle, defensive linemen can often play more than one position.

Antwan Odom and Robert Geathers are the rush ends, and the Bengals highest paid defensive lineman.

The pair of lineman both had down-years due to injury last season; Geathers had micro-fracture surgery and, Odom shoulder injury, both are looking to have breakout seasons now that they are fully healthy.

Maybe the most underrated DL in the AFC North is Domata Peko, as Peko finished the season second in the NFL in tackles at the defensive tackle position.

Simms made his debut last season, and got significant playing time due to all the injuries. Simms proved himself as a run stopper in the middle last season, look for him to improve with a year under his belt.

The Bengals have former USC DL Frostee Rucker, and Jonathan Fanene who can play multiple positions and are almost locks to make the team.

Probably the Bengals biggest addition to their DL this year is Michael Johnson.  Michael has been compared with another athletic specimen, Javon Kearse.

If the comparison sounds absurd, it shouldn’t, Kearse came into the league 10 years ago standing at 6’4", 265 pounds, and his 40-yard dash time was 4.55.

Michael Johnson stands at 6'7", 266 pounds, and Johnson ran a 4.49 40 yard dash at his pro day.

Johnson has impressed coaches, teammates, and Bengals fans have been flocking to YouTube trying to watch highlights of Mike Zimmer’s new toy.

One of my personal favorite YouTube clips of Michael is when he was up against first round pick Eugene Monroe, and sacked his QB twice, once causing a fumble recovered by Georgia Tech.

Probably the most enigmatic piece added to this year’s DL is Tank Johnson, and his return to the 4-3 defensive scheme that he flourished in.

It is anyone’s guess what to expect out of Tank this year; will he return to form being reunited with former Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer, or will Tank show that it wasn’t the switch to the 3-4 defense that made his numbers drop off in Dallas.

That is eight defensive linemen there, which leaves Jason Shirley, Clinton McDonald, Chris Harrington, and Pernell Phillips fighting for the last spot.

If say McDonald, the Bengals seventh round pick out of Memphis, and Jason Shirley shine in training camp, then the Bengals could count Michael Johnson as a linebacker.

I think the Bengals will keep Shirley and possibly McDonald, and if need-be count Michael Johnson as a LB for number reasons, however he will be rushing the passer from the DE on obvious passing downs.

Pernell Phillips and Chris Harrington will most likely end up on the practice squad, however if McDonald doesn’t make the team look for the practice squad position to be filled by him.