Bengals Defensive Overhaul Continues

Tory James

Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis continued his overhaul of the Bengals defense Sunday night with the signing of free agent cornerback Tory James. James picked off four passes while starting 13 games for the AFC Champion Oakland Raiders. The 29-year old veteran has 18 career interceptions.

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 extensive experience.

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 down.

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.



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