James joins defensive end Carl Powell (free agent from Washington), defensive
tackle John Thornton (free agent from Tennessee), and linebacker Kevin Hardy
(free agent from Dallas) as potential starters on Lewis’ inaugural Bengals
defense. The infusion of free agent talent should go a long way in making an
already solid defense better.
Though the Bengals will likely lose Takeo Spikes to Buffalo, the depth and
talent in the linebacking core continues to be strong. Hardy, Canute Curtis,
Steve Foley, Adrian Ross, and Brian Simmons give Cincinnati five veterans with
At defensive tackle, newcomer John Thornton will lead a rotation that might also
include Glen Steele, Oliver Gibson (coming off an Achilles’ tendon tear), and
Vaughn Booker. Justin Smith (16 sacks in two seasons) will hold down one end
spot with Powell heading into training camp as the favorite to win the other end
position. Though the Bengals appear to be solid in the middle, don’t be
surprised to see the Bengals pick a DT in the first round IF they can trade
The secondary has been Cincinnati’s weakest link defensively for years. The
signing of James along with the return of Artrell Hawkins (who has quietly
turned himself into a solid NFL cornerback) should give the Bengals their
strongest set of starting CB’s in years. Safety continues to be a concern,
however. Though there are plenty of candidates for both spots (Lamont Thompson,
Mark Roman, JoJuan Armour, and Marquand Manuel), look for Lewis to upgrade
through the draft or free agency.
Even though Lewis has four new players on-board, the Bengals draft plans
probably haven’t changed all that much. If Cincinnati can’t rid themselves
of the top overall pick, Carson Palmer or Byron Leftwich would likely be
selected by the Bengals. WR Charles Rogers from Michigan State would most likely
be considered as well, but it’s doubtful that Mike Brown would want to pay a
wideout the kind of money that a top pick would require.
If the Bengals can trade down, one would think that Lewis would take either CB
Terence Newman of Kansas State or DT Jimmy Kennedy of Miami (Fla.). Both have
the potential to step in and start immediately.
Surprisingly, Lewis has been able to sell Cincinnati to some quality free
agents. Guys like Hardy, Thornton, and James are players that numerous other
teams were interested in. If Lewis can coach as well as he can sell, the Bengals
turnaround might happen much quicker than any of us would have thought possible.