After significant upheaval on the defensive side, the Cincinnati Bengals look much more apt to stop teams in 2021. However, in addition to their crop of free agents this off-season, the team has talent ready to re-emerge ahead of the upcoming season. Not only is last off-season’s big-ticket free agent D.J. Reader ready to return, but a few talented, young pass rushers will be back in the mix. The Bengals were one of the league’s worst pass-rushing units a year ago, so the reinforcements are needed.
Cincinnati Bengals Defensive Tackles Josh Tupou, Renell Wren, and D.J. Reader Bring Renewed Pressure for 2021
In the midst of a busy off-season, the Cincinnati Bengals have quietly fortified a pretty solid room of defensive lineman. Sure, there was the big-ticket signing of Trey Hendrickson and the addition of Larry Ogunjobi. Further, it’s hard to forget the impactful departures of Carl Lawson and Geno Atkins. However, one of the most important movements for the group this off-season is the return to the field. With OTAs on the horizon, the Bengals quietly have a group of pretty exciting talents returning to the defensive line. Playing just five games combined in 2020, Reader, Josh Tupou, and Renell Wren look to take the field in 2021.
Granted, the one who played in five games was Reader, the most talented and most expensive of the group. He played just 259 snaps before suffering a torn quad in the team’s Week Five loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Wren suffered an injury as well, a significant quadriceps injury on the first day of training camp. That injury held him out for all of 2020. On the other hand, Tupou was amongst those who opted out of the season due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Now, all three return to a renewed Bengals defense with a chance to help boost Cincinnati’s pressure and sack rates.
Off-Season Coaching Addition Will Play Major Role in Defensive Line’s Resurgence
Assisting the group further, the team hired a new defensive line coach this off-season, moving on from Nick Eason. In steps Marion Hobby, a highly-regarded coach with a long list of career experiences. Hobby spent the last two seasons working with the Miami Dolphins and the defensive-minded Brian Flores. Most noteworthy is his impact on the 2017 and 2018 defensive groups for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The group, regarded as “Sacksonville” under Hobby, was one the most ferocious past rushing groups in the league. They compiled 55 sacks in 2017, which was the second-most in football. Interestingly, Hobby was also Reader’s defensive coordinator during his time at Clemson. Hobby called defensive plays for the 2016 National Championship-winning Tigers before leaping to the league. Now with the Bengals, Hobby gets the chance to get some young and exciting talent playing at a high level.
How Wren and Tupou Could Make the Cincinnati Bengals Defensive Tackles Group Quite Dangerous Next Season
In order for the Bengals defensive group to start humming, they need some young players to emerge and erupt. In Wren and Tupou, the team has two interesting young talents that can make their mark next season. Selected in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Wren only has 11 games and eight tackles under his belt. Certainly, he’s the rawest of the duo. In Wren, the team has plenty of untapped potential from a very promising athlete. According to Kent Lee Platte, Wren posted a 9.75 relative athletic score (RAS) when testing out of college. That score ranked fourth in the class. The names ahead of Wren? Ed Oliver, Dexter Lawrence, and Quinnen Williams, all of whom are off to strong starts as professionals. While he is coming off of a lower-body injury, the athletic potential from Wren presents a lot of excitement.
Opposite of Wren in terms of athletic ability, Tupou can be a bear in the trenches for the Bengals defense. With three seasons, 23 games, and seven starts under his belt, Tupou does have a good deal of professional snaps. While he’s posted only 36 tackles so far, he’s proven his value in this league as a run defender. In 2019, he posted a 76.6 run-stopping grade according to Pro Football Focus. This year, that would’ve ranked third on the Bengals and first among their defensive tackles. Tupou needs to learn how to create more pressure on the quarterback, that’s without question. Still, it’s promising to see that the 26-year-old showcases an ability to stuff-up action in the middle of the line. Further, even if Tupou does just stuff the run, it’ll allow Ogunjobi to focus on pass-rushing downs in a rotation.
The Return of D.J. Reader Should Have Wide-Spanning Impact for Bengals
Just one off-season removed from his four-year, $53 million pact with the Bengals, Reader has more to prove. Foremost, his 2020 season was his least-impactful to date. Certainly, his five games last season didn’t go the way that many had hoped. His 69.6 overall, 69.3 run-stopping, and 60.7 grades score at around average. However, that’s a steep decline from his 2019 grades with the Houston Texans, which were all above 75. Still, he flashed as a key member of a defensive unit that looked quite lost without his presence.
In 2021, Reader returns as one of the most important figures on the defensive group. Not only is he strong on his own, Reader makes everyone else’s job a little easier. Importantly, Reader will assist in creating pressures for high-dollar free-agent edge-rusher, Trey Hendrickson. He also helps the linebackers out quite a bit in the running game. While Logan Wilson led the team well in that area as a rookie, Reader should take some of the thinking off his plate. Reader absorbs runners at the point of contact, effectively reducing any chance they have to break free. This allows linebackers to clean up the stumbling runner for minimal-to-no gain.
While there are many components to a good Cincinnati Bengals defensive attack, they’ve thrived when they win in the trenches. Wren, Tupou, and Reader are all coming off of significant time away, but are key to the 2021 rotation. Lou Anarumo is well aware that the team needs to create more pressure and these extra pieces won’t be a catch-all solution. With the draft still ahead, they could add even more talent to the defensive line room. Regardless, the reinforcements come after the team spent heavily to improve the bunch this spring.
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