Drilling in: Defense

© David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Bengals Defensive unit analysis

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DE Carlos Dunlap, NT Andrew Billings, DT Geno Atkins, DE Michael Johnson. Backups -- Chris Baker, Sam Hubbard, Carl Lawson, Jordan Willis, Andrew Brown, Ryan Glasgow, Chris Okoye, Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, Josh Tupou.

Dunlap and Atkins are among the best at their positions, but also are unsigned beyond this season. Atkins has recorded 29 of his 61 career sacks in the last three seasons. Dunlap recorded a career-high 13.5 sacks in 2015, but finished with 7.5 last season. Assuming their contract situations don't become a distraction, this remains a formidable duo.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Nick Vigil, MLB Preston Brown, OLB Vontaze Burfict. Backups -- Brandon Bell, Jordan Evans, Malik Jefferson, Junior Joseph, Hardy Nickerson, Vincent Rey, Chris Worley.

The Bengals will start the season without Burfict, who will serve a four-game suspension for violating the league's performance enhancing drug policy. Cincinnati has done decently without him at times by going 16-12 in the games he's missed. The Bengals are hoping starters Vigil and Brown can compensate with effective run-stopping on a unit that was among the worst in this area last season.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - CB Dre Kirkpatrick, CB William Jackson III, S Shawn Williams, S George Iloka. Backups - Darqueze Dennard, Jessie Bates, Tyrice Beverette, Clayton Fejedelem, Davontae Harris, Trayvon Henderson, William Jackson, Tony McRae, Darius Phillips, KeiVarae Russell, Josh Shaw, Sojourn Shelton, Brandon Wilson.

Jackson is an emerging star and will get an enhanced role following the departure of Adam Jones. Of course, as his reputation grows for being a shutdown corner, so does the reluctance of opposing quarterbacks to throw his way. That places the onus on Kirkpatrick and safeties Williams and Iloka. Improved play also includes improving their ability to generate turnovers, something they struggled immensely with and has been a focus in offseason workouts.

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