Posted by on January 10, 2015 8:00 am
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Categories: NFLPros

Injuries mauled the Cincinnati Bengals defense for much of the 2014 season, and kept that entire side of the ball out of rhythm. In the mix of that was rookie Will Clarke, who struggled to establish himself on the Bengals defensive line. But a good offseason could change that for Clarke.

At WVU, Clarke saw his draft stock soar in the matter of one year, showing that a single season really can make a difference. He went from a no-name defensive end to a seemingly must-have draft pick, being snatched up in the third round by the Bengals.

Cincinnati, though, seemingly had a solid defensive line, giving Clarke a chance to sit back and learn from veterans like Robert Geathers and Geno Atkins. Neither had the season that they had hoped for, watching their third-ranked defense fall to No. 22 by season’s end. Clarke had three tackles and a fumble recovery in seven games.

First-year defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said that finding pass-rushers in the offseason will likely be top priority and that Clarke could be part of that change… but in a good way.

“There’s upside to both Will Clarke and Margus (Hunt), to be honest with you,” Guenther told the team’s website. “That’s just something where we’ve got to improve the younger players in the rush, and we’ve got to look either in the draft or free agency to get some fresh talent in here for sure.”

Opening up competition for just about every position on the defensive line is good for a driven Clarke who has already proven he can raise his stock in a short period of time.

It’s been known for sometime that the Bengals would like Clarke to bulk up to about 290 pounds, giving him the size to play at either the end or tackle position on the defensive line.

With injuries this season, Guenther said that he knows getting everyone involved in the offseason will give his defense depth.

“Probably that you’ve got to make sure in the spring and in training camp that you get the backup players involved with the first-team players,” he said. “I didn’t anticipate as many injuries as we got this year so you have to feel confident week seven that a guy goes in there he knows exactly what to do. That’s probably the biggest thing. X’s and O’s that was the easy part.”

All of that points to more and more chances for Clarke to become a valuable asset to the Bengals in 2015.

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