The 2012 Cincinnati Bengals once again found their way into the playoffs after a rough stretch of games in the early part of the season. This was primarily due to a resurgent defense that didn’t allow a single opponent to score more than 20 points over the final eight games. The defensive line was a major factor in shutting down the scoring, but a second big reason was the improved play of the secondary. A unit composed mainly of aging veterans and players discarded by other teams was much maligned through the first half of the season for allowing big plays and dropping interceptions. However, by the end of the season they were being lauded for their toughness and ability to show up in big moments of games. Now, there are choices to be made and this off-season should be an interesting one for the Cincinnati secondary.
The decisions begin early for Mike Brown and the coaching staff, with several free agents, including cornerbacks Nate Clements, Adam Jones and Terence Newman along with with safety Chris Crocker. Clements seems to be the most likely to leave since his role diminished as the season wore on due to age, injury and being beaten out by other players. Newman is another aging player, but had a solid season in 2012. He’ll be 35 this year and that could be a factor in whether or not he stays, but his play down the stretch could bring him back. Jones has taken advantage of the second chance the Bengals gave him and could garner interest from other teams. He was instrumental in the winning streak with solid coverage and some big plays in the return game. Re-signing him should be a priority. Crocker was signed after the start of the season as an injury replacement and played pretty well. He does have weaknesses though and it’s thought that safety could be addressed early in the draft, making him expendable.
As it stands, the Bengals will definitely have Leon Hall lined up at one CB spot and Reggie Nelson starting at safety. Aside from that, it’s wide open. Last year’s first round draft pick Dre Kirkpatrick will be given every chance to secure the second CB spot after injury derailed his rookie season. Other young CBs like Brandon Ghee and Shaun Prater will have a chance to shine as well. There is also a chance that a CB is chosen early in this draft too, depending on which of the unrestricted free agents return. A safety will almost certainly be taken in one of the early rounds and would likely earn the starting job as well. The x-factor in the process is free agency and whether or not the Bengals made a run at a starting CB or safety there. Cincinnati generally doesn’t target big names, but being so close to breaking through for a playoff win might push them to spend a little money. However it plays out, the Bengals will be counting on the secondary to replicate their 2012 season, no matter who wind up playing back there.