When it comes to drafting defensive ends, size matters.
Especially to the Bengals.
“Like John Madden always says, ‘If there’s a tie between a little guy and a big guy, take the big guy.’” said defensive line coach Jay Hayes.
“Once these kinds of guys fall off the board, there aren’t many like them,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.
After losing 6’7”, 270 pound Michael Johnson to free agency, Cincinnati used its third round pick on William “Will” Clarke out of West Virginia.
“William is a prototype defense end,” said Guenther. “(He’s) 6’6”, 271 and when you look at his frame – and Jay and I studied him throughout the combine and his college days – this guy can put weight on. He can be 290 in a month.”
“Will Clarke probably had the dimensions of a guy that fit that bill for us – no doubt about it,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “His future is ahead of him to continue to grow into his body, to mature, get stronger, and continue to play with the speed and athleticism that he’s demonstrated there at West Virginia. I’m really excited about adding him to the mix with the rest of our defensive line group.”
“I have a big motor and use my size to my advantage,” said Clarke. “I’ve improved as a pass rusher and I’ll bring that to the team.”
Johnson was also a third round selection in 2009 and the Bengals watched him develop from a backup as a rookie into one of their most consistent players on defense. The hope is that Clarke can follow a similar path.
“I think there are some comparisons, but let’s compare him in two or three seasons,” said Lewis. “Michael grew into that and did a nice job here which is what we want. We want to continue to grow great players.”
“He’s the type of guy that will fit in well,” said Hayes. “He’s going to work hard and he has talent. And he has potential to keep getting better.”
Clarke was a three-year starter at West Virginia and led the Mountaineers last season with six sacks and 17 tackles for loss. His 81 ¼-inch wingspan helped him deflect seven passes.
“You’ve got to get some push and you’ve got to be around the quarterback in order to do that,” said Lewis.
“When you’re disrupting the ball at this level, you couldn’t ask for more,” said Guenther. “There were a lot of situations last season where there might have been a guy wide open and one of our ends batted a ball down and it saved our butt.”
Despite losing Johnson, the Bengals still have one of the deepest defensive end units in the NFL with Carlos Dunlap, Robert Geathers, Wallace Gilberry, Margus Hunt, Dontay Moch, and Sam Montgomery on the current roster. Now they’ll look to work Clarke into the rotation.
“The guy fits into the kind of guys we have,” said Hayes. “We have long, tall, athletic players and he is definitely one of those guys.”
“He’ll make this football team better with his physical attributes,” said Lewis.
After selecting cornerback Darqueze Dennard in the first round and Clarke in the third, the Bengals have used two of their top three picks to bolster one of the NFL’s top defenses.
“In the draft, you never can get enough (pass) rushers and you can never get enough cover guys and we’ve addressed both of those areas,” said Guenther. “I think we got two guys that are the kind of guys we’re looking for around here. Hard-working, disciplined, physical, and they love the game of football. We’re excited to have them both.”
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