By Joe Kay
AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI — The proof of change in the Bengals defense was right there on the field, a familiar face wearing his old number. End Wallace Gilberry got his No. 95 and worked out in the rain with the rest of the team Tuesday, the first move to try to fix the defense’s numerous shortcomings.
More change is expected.
The Bengals (3-4-1) re-signed Gilberry during their bye week. He left as a free agent after last season and played four games with Detroit before suffering an abdominal injury and getting released with a settlement.
His return means fewer plays for one of the other defensive ends. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is looking at changing roles in other places to jump-start a unit that has slipped badly.
“We’ve got the old band back together with Gilberry being back,” tackle Domata Peko said. “I’m excited where we are. We’re only one game back in our division. Everything’s right ahead of us.”
Gilberry declined interviews through the team’s public relations staff Tuesday, unhappy with how his play last season was characterized. He had 23 tackles and two sacks in 2015, giving him 3 1/2 sacks in his last two seasons in Cincinnati.
By signing a player who has missed half the season because of injury, the Bengals showed how much they’re determined to fix their biggest problem area. They’ve given up 400 yards in three of the last four games and rank 25th in the NFL in yards allowed.
Their defensive stars have been subpar. Linemen Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Peko and Michael Johnson combined for 34½ sacks last season; they’re on pace for 19 this season. Atkins had 11 sacks last season; he has only 3 1/2 this season. Dunlap is down from a career-high 13 1/2 to five.
The defense was told that jobs are on the line.
“Changes are going to come,” safety George Iloka said. “They always say the definition of a crazy man is someone who does the same thing on and on and expects to get different results. So of course they have to switch things up.”
The Bengals tied Washington in London two weeks ago and then had their bye. They reconvened Tuesday and held their first practice, with the defense looking as though it got the message that jobs are at stake.
“We had one of our best practices of the year today,” Guenther said.
The Bengals also got an assist during their bye. Baltimore beat Pittsburgh 21-14 on Sunday, leaving those two teams atop the AFC North at 4-4 with the Bengals a half-game back. Cleveland is last at 0-9.
“At the end of the day, we’re a half-game back,” cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones said. “Crazy game.”
They still have two games left with Baltimore, two with Cleveland and one with the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium, so there’s a chance to win the division for a second straight season. They play at the Giants next Monday night.
“For as horrible of a start as we had, everything is still right in front of us,” Peko said. “It’s not going to be easy, but this is an important game and we know that in this locker room. This game is very huge for us and we’ve got to win it.”
NOTES: LB Rey Maualuga missed practice on Tuesday because of a personal matter. … The Bengals opened the season by beating the Jets 23-22 at MetLife Stadium. It’s the second time in club history that they’re playing two road games in the same stadium in one season. They also played the Jets and Giants away in 2008. … The Bengals lead their series with the Giants 6-3. The home team has won each game. … The Bengals lost both of their Monday night games last season and are 11-22 overall on Monday night.