D.J. Reader was one of the Cincinnati Bengals’ prized free agent acquisitions last year, the organization moving away from their blueprint and spending heavily on outside free agents for a change. Signed to the largest contract in NFL history for a nose tackle, he was expected to make an immediate impact for a defense looking to re-establish its identity as a physical group.
Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending injury just five games into his Bengals career, limited to only 259 defensive snaps. He still finished the year with 19 tackles, including one for a loss, and two passes defensed. While he did not register a sack, he did have one quarterback hit.
“I thought I was strong at the point. I played a lot plays. I felt like it worked out for me”, he told the team’s website in assessing his own performance. “I got off to a good start with a new team, but ultimately I wasn’t satisfied. I don’t think I ever will be”.
“I felt like I started to get more pressure on the quarterback. I was making plays on the ball. I was tipping some passes. It was getting to be a lot more fun. I thought I played the run well. But that book is closed, so it’s on to next year and I’m excited to see what happens”.
But Reader was less interested in evaluating his own partial season of play and more focused on looking to the Bengals’ future as a whole. They have actually been one of the worst teams in the league over the past couple of seasons under Zac Taylor, but there is optimism with Joe Burrow at quarterback—who like Reader, is also recovering from a season-ending injury.
“I think we’re in a really good place. We’ve got a good leader who handles the ball for us”, he said of Burrow. “I think he makes really, really good decisions out there and he’s got some great pieces around him. I think we’ve got a good coach who is for his players. He’s going to make sure those guys, especially on (offense), believe in what they’ve got going on and he’s going to make the team believe in what we’ve got going on”.
Cincinnati did finish this past season going 4-11-1, which is actually an improvement for them, and they had to go almost half of the way playing with backups. Both Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley ended up winning one game apiece, the latter coming against the Pittsburgh Steelers.