The last time the Ravens met the Cincinnati Bengals, Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall was on injured reserve, Chris Crocker was the starting strong safety, and Terence Newman and Jason Allen were earning paychecks in Texas.
When the AFC North rivals open their season Monday night at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens will introduce themselves to a retooled Bengals secondary.
Hall is back from a torn Achilles tendon that sidelined him for the final eight games of 2011, Crocker has been replaced by Taylor Mays, and Newman and Allen were signed in the offseason from the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans, respectively.
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Add a pair of starters in cornerback Nate Clements and free safety Reggie Nelson, and Cincinnati boasts a unit loaded with promise. As far as Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith is concerned, nothing has really changed.
“They still have the same defense,” said Smith, who posted a career-best 165 yards and one touchdown on six catches in a 31-24 victory against the Bengals on Nov. 20. “They just added some players. They’re good players. They obviously added some experience. They look great to me on film. So I think it’s going to be a tough challenge.”
Cincinnati won’t have rookie cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who has been ruled out because of a left knee injury. But Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said the new faces in the secondary could pose a challenge in terms of the new wrinkles they might present.
“They added Newman, and they’ve got little different combinations that they’ve used in the preseason,” he said. “So really, we’re going to have to wait and see what combination shows up out there not only in base, but in sub because they’ve done two or three different things. They’re not different from any other defense. They want to get better. They’ve got a little more experience there, but at the same time, they’ve gotten more physical in the secondary.”
With the new players, it could take the Bengals some time to develop chemistry and communication. But Smith said the Ravens offense isn’t banking on that occurring Monday night.
“I feel like they’ve been there long enough now that they know the defense,” he said. “It’s a matter of them being comfortable, and they’ve been through camp. So I think they’ll be fine.”