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Pressure mounts on Bengals defense

Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan knows what everyone is thinking as the Cincinnati Bengals get ready to open training camp this week: If the defense drags Cincinnati down again, someone is probably going to take a fall.

The Bengals finished 8-8 last season in large part because the defense ranked among the league's worst again. They spent a lot of time and money in the offseason rearranging a unit that has consistently failed.

If that doesn't change, the coaching staff might be in for change.

"It's time for us to go as a unit, and it's right on me," Bresnahan said Tuesday, before the team's preseason luncheon.

"I'll accept that responsibility. It's time for us to step up this year and take our game to another level."

There's a sense that careers and reputations are on the line heading into the first workout Friday in Georgetown, Ky. The Bengals have finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs in three of coach Marvin Lewis' four seasons.

The common thread is the defense, which has been among the league's worst during that four-year span.

It underwent a makeover in the offseason. Cornerback Tory James was allowed to leave as a free agent after a poor season, linebacker Brian Simmons and defensive lineman Sam Adams were released, and safety Kevin Kaesviharn was allowed to leave for more money with New Orleans.

The newcomers include defensive tackles Michael Myers and Kenderick Allen, linebacker Edgerton Hartwell, and first-round draft pick Leon Hall, a cornerback out of Michigan who will be counted on to help a pass defense that was tied for last in the league.

They'd better produce.

"Yeah, to me, the pressure's on," Bresnahan said. "And it should be on."

Staying out of trouble would be a good start.

The Bengals had 10 players arrested in a 14-month span, by far the most in the league. Six of them were defensive players, including middle linebacker Odell Thurman.

Thurman was suspended for all of last season by commissioner Roger Goodell for violating the league's substance abuse policy. He pleaded no contest to driving drunk in February, and was sentenced to six days in a treatment program.

Thurman has applied for reinstatement, but Goodell hasn't made a decision. The Bengals haven't received an indication about whether he will be available for training camp.

"I have no idea, nor do I lose any sleep or thought over it," Lewis said Tuesday, cutting off discussion of the troubled linebacker.

The Bengals tried to fill Thurman's spot by picking linebacker Ahmad Brooks in the supplemental draft last year. Brooks, who was kicked off the team at Virginia, played in 11 games and started five of them.

Bresnahan said Brooks, who started only two of the last five games, needs to get over his fear of making mistakes in order to play a bigger role this season.

"There's a lot of pressure on him now to step up and accept the challenge," Bresnahan said.

Things are much more clear-cut on offense. Unlike last year, quarterback Carson Palmer has fully recovered from reconstructive knee surgery and will be able to do everything from the first day.

The biggest question on offense is who will be the No. 3 receiver while Chris Henry serves his eight-game suspension from the league for misconduct.

"We need to learn to overcome some adversity - guys will be hurt or suspended," offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said. "But we can't use that as an excuse. We've got to overcome it."

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