Each offseason, every NFL team focuses on at least one area in need of an upgrade. So what aspect of the Cincinnati Bengals is looking better these days?

Training camp begins later this month for all 32 NFL teams. So that means another preview series from End Zone Score. Dating back to early March, we have taken time to look at each club’s best offseason addition. We even dabbled into some pertinent and historical numbers and previewed an up-and-coming player for each franchise.

Contrary to popular opinions, no team in the league is perfect. That’s why there’s a constant search for talent when it comes to this game. Each club has done its best to bolster its roster. So in this instance, we are going to take a glance at each franchise and pinpoint the department in which it made the most strides this offseason. We have already looked at the AFC East and the NFC East. We are in the midst of previewing the AFC North and have already previewed the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. Now it’s time for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Linebacker

For the first time since 2010, we didn’t see the Cincinnati Bengals in the playoffs this past season. The reasons are various. And that includes a defensive unit that fell on hard times in certain areas in 2016.

There were some changes this offseason. Defensive tackle Domata Peko left for the Denver Broncos. Linebacker Rey Maualuga was released by the club. The latter is more significant in this instance as coordinator Paul Guenther looks to get this unit back on track. The Bengals ranked 17th in the NFL in total defense this past season and were 21st vs. the run.

The addition of free-agent middle linebacker Kevin Minter (Arizona Cardinals) figures to be a positive addition. Controversial but productive linebacker Vontaze Burfict remains at one outside spot. There could be an interesting battle on the other side between Marquis Flowers and 2016 third-round pick Nick Vigil. Fortunately for Guenther and head coach Marvin Lewis, versatile Vincent Rey remains on the roster.

Meanwhile, the franchise added a pair of linebackers in this year’s draft in Carl Lawson (4-Auburn) and Jordan Evans (6-Oklahoma). We also haven’t seen a lot of 2015 third-round pick Paul Dawson in two seasons. He’s been limited to a total of 13 games.

Under Lewis, the Cincinnati Bengals have not won a playoff game (0-7). But the franchise has been the postseason mix for the most part. Was a 6-9-1 season a sign of things to come and the beginning of a slow decline? With players like defensive tackle Geno Atkins and ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson up front, a strong showing from the team’s linebacking corps this fall should help this defense back on track.

Russell S. Baxter is the NFL lead columnist for EndZoneScore.com and the founder of ProFootballGuru.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.

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