Bengals’ defensive coordinator getting to know new group

Cincinnati added several newcomers through free agency, draft

The Cincinnati Bengals needed to shake things up on defense in terms of personnel, but it adds another challenge having a bunch of new players just now getting to know one another after a virtual offseason.

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said it’s been odd the last two days finally getting everyone together at Paul Brown Stadium for the first time and seeing players introducing themselves to one another, even though they did meet virtually. Rookies and veterans have been trickling in over the last two weeks for testing and physicals and officially got back to work as a group Tuesday.

Now the real work begins, as the Bengals try to bounce back from a 2-14 finish and two especially difficult years defensively, where they have been among the worst in the league in most major categories.

“The good news is it’s not six rookies we’re depending on,” Anarumo said in an online news conference Wednesday. “That would certainly add to the challenge. We made a conscious effort in the guys we took. Not only are they quality men and quality players, but they’re smart individuals and they’ve been around. While they may have called particular techniques something at another team, it’s really just ‘Hey, this is just this from what you call it.’

“We’re trying to assimilate the best we can with some general things and we’ll just build from there. So it’s exciting. They’ve done great in the classroom work and so far with the two walkthroughs we’ve had with the veterans and the five we had with the rookies. The guys are picking stuff up.”

The Bengals used free agency to rebuild the, adding cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander and safety Vonn Bell. They shored up the defensive line with nose tackle D.J. Reader. They also added former Ravens linebacker Josh Bynes as a much-needed veteran in the middle tier of the defense, before Cincinnati drafted three players at that position.

Despite high expectations for Reader, especially pairing with Geno Atkins inside, the defensive tackle position now is of more concern since Josh Tupou opted out for this season because of COVID-19 concerns. He played in all 16 games last year and was expected to be an important piece to the rotation.

“Sounds like I’m not the only guy worried about that around the league,” Anarumo said. “It seems to be a few teams are having that issue. I’m sure we’ll address it and we’ve got some good young guys we’re working with. ... . We still have time to maybe go get a guy or two. We’ll see how it all shakes out.”

Anarumo said adjusting the scheme to a 3-4 wouldn’t change much because he still needs guys that can hold up against the run from that defensive tackle spot.

The Bengals also will be trying to rotate Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap off the field more to preserve them for a full season as they begin to see more wear and tear at age 32 and 31, respectively.

“You have to keep those guys’ rep count low just because of where they are,” Anarumo said. “Now, they’re both in great shape as always, but what happens is you don’t really see the effect on those guys early in the year. It’s later in the year where they just get worn out, beat up the older they get. … It’s just, they take a toll on the quality. So, we’ll have a pitch count, per se, with those guys. But when the most impactful plays are about to happen, hopefully they’re in there.”

Anarumo said the Bengals tried to add players in free agency and through the draft who would fit well in the system, but he did tinker with some different schemes and packages to make sure they get the most out of their personnel.

“There will be some give and take in what we are doing, but for the most part it will be some of the things we’ve done in the past and just making sure we just do it better than we did last year,” he said.

The Bengals have plenty of time now to make sure guys understand the playbook and what they are expected to do on the field. The NFL implemented an acclimatization process to ease into padded practices. They currently are limited to walkthroughs and strength and conditioning, and the first full practice is not scheduled until Aug. 17.

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