Surprise! Bengals' draft puts the emphasis on defense
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By JOE KAY
CINCINNATI (AP) With the Bengals determined to improve an offense that finished last in the league, their new defensive coordinator didn't expect to be very busy during the draft.
He wound up getting six of the first eight players picked.
Could he have imagined going 6 of 8?
"If I was shooting free throws maybe, but not getting defensive players," Teryl Austin said.
The Bengals decided they were set for now on offense and turned their draft focus to upgrading a defense that slipped last season. After taking Ohio State center Billy Price with the 21st overall pick, they went defense primarily in the next four rounds.
The Bengals' defense finished No. 18 overall last season, including 30th against the run, so they weren't exactly stocking up in an area of strength.
"We're not sure how different it's going to be until we get them here and see where they fit," Austin said. "That's going to play out over time. Infusing talent always raises the competition level."
Some things to note about the Bengals' defense-heavy draft:
ANOTHER GIO? Running back Mark Walton from Miami was one of the few offensive players picked, going in the fourth round. Although the Bengals' main focus on offense has been fixing the line, they also needed a running back to replace Jeremy Hill - Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard return. Walton is 5-foot-10 and reminds the Bengals of Bernard in size and quickness. One big attraction: Walton played on Miami's kickoff and punt coverage teams, so he can fit on special teams immediately.
THE REST OF THE CLASS: In the fifth round, Cincinnati took cornerback Davontae Harris from Illinois State, defensive tackle Andrew Brown from Virginia and cornerback Darius Phillips from Western Michigan. The Bengals had no picks in the sixth round. In the seventh, they got quarterback Logan Woodside from Toledo, guard Rod Taylor from Mississippi, and receiver Auden Tate from Florida State.
SETTLED AT QB: The Bengals needed another quarterback after backup AJ McCarron left for Buffalo, and there was a question whether they would try to replace him by taking one in the middle of the draft - they got McCarron in the fifth round in 2014.
Instead, they signed Matt Barkley to a two-year deal last month and decided they were set at the No. 2 spot, waiting until the seventh round to get an extra quarterback.
PAYING ATTENTION: The Bengals will be watching Price closely in the next few months. He had surgery to repair a torn chest muscle after the combine, and he's expected to be ready for the start of training camp. Last year, the Bengals took receiver John Ross in the first round even though he was recovering from shoulder surgery, and it didn't turn out well. He played in only three games before another shoulder injury ended his season.
NO PIES: Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson gets free pizza for a year as part of a promotion by an NFL sponsor. Pizza Hut offered free pies to the "Pi Pick" - third round, 14th choice, or 3.14. That was Jefferson. He expected to make an appearance at a local Pizza Hut on Saturday, but it didn't work out.
"I actually missed the pizza party," Jefferson said. "I don't know how that's going to work. I'm still working that deal out with my marketing agent."
O-H: The draft will be remembered locally for the Bengals finally taking some Ohio State players. Even though franchise founder Paul Brown won a national championship at Ohio State, the Bengals had drafted only two Buckeyes in the past 23 years - none higher than the sixth round. Over that same time, they took seven players from Michigan. This year, they took Price and Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard in the third round. Price will be practicing across from former Michigan defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow.
"The rivalry is still part of it," Price said. "He went to the team up north and I went to Ohio State. We will leave it at that. I remember playing him specifically. The last week in November, we will have a little bet."
SELLING TICKETS: Bringing Hubbard aboard has already boosted ticket sales. Hubbard grew up in Cincinnati and attended Bengals games regularly.
"My uncle went down and got season tickets right after he found out I'm going (to the Bengals)," Hubbard said.
STILL NEED: Help on the offensive line. They filled the hole at center, but they're still depending upon young players who have yet to prove themselves. Left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi struggled the past two seasons, prompting the Bengals to get left tackle Cordy Glenn from Buffalo. Right tackle Jake Fisher had a procedure to repair an irregular heartbeat during the season. There's still work to be done in their biggest problem area.
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Updated April 28, 2018