CINCINNATI — Defensive end Michael Johnson is fitting in as though he never left Cincinnati. The rest of the Bengals defense is trying to get back to the way it was as well.
One of the main focuses in Cincinnati’s offseason workouts is getting the defense back to where it was two years ago, when it was the backbone of a playoff team. The Bengals have kept the unit essentially intact, so it’s more a matter of working on the little things than starting all over.
“There’s a lot of carry-over,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said after practice on Tuesday. “We’ve added some stuff in the offseason, some new concepts that we’re doing. At this point, it’s getting them refined and getting the younger guys caught up to where the veterans are at.”
The defense was the foundation for Cincinnati making the playoffs each of the last four seasons. It ranked No. 7 in 2011, No. 6 in 2012 and No. 3 in yards allowed in 2013. The ranking slipped to No. 22 last season, when the defense allowed 500 yards in a game a club-record three times.
The Bengals are hoping that the addition of Johnson and linebacker A.J. Hawk give them a boost at their two most unsettled areas on defense. Johnson left as a free agent, spent one year in Tampa Bay and returned with a four-year deal in March.
The Bengals were last in the league in sacks last season, managing only 20 — the second-fewest in franchise history for a 16-game schedule. Andrew Luck was sacked only once during the Colts’ 26-10 playoff victory, the fourth year in a row that Cincinnati lost in the opening round.
The line got little pressure on the quarterback last season. Johnson is expected to help with that right away because he already knows the defense and how his teammates play.
“It’s like I never left,” said Johnson, who got his old locker. “It’s great to be able to come back. You don’t see this story played out like this. It’s very rare to be able to do. It is a lot fun. It’s truly a blessing.
“It’s like I feel refreshed after being away a little bit.”
Guenther said Johnson seems comfortable already, even though there were some changes in the defense during the one season he was gone.
“He picked it up like he’s been here all along,” Guenther said. “He’s remembered all of the techniques and concepts we’re doing, so it’s an easy carry-over for him.”
The biggest question involves their top playmaker. Middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict missed most of last season with concussions and two knee operations. He hasn’t been cleared to resume practicing, and it’s unclear when he’ll be ready to play.
Coach Marvin Lewis said last week that he expects Burfict to be in the rehabilitation process with his knee all summer.
“So he’s got a long ways to go,” Lewis said. “He had surgery in January. That’s a surgery that takes a bit. He’s trying to beat the odds and do it quicker but he’s got a lot of work to do. It’s part of the injury.”
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