Hobson's Choice: Compromise and competition

Posted Jun 3, 2014

Geoff Hobson answers the fans in this weeks Hobson's Choice.


 Transplanted corner Onterio McCalebb remains a longshot to make the 53.

The fans want to know and so do I. So I threw in a question this week:

With Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis inferring over the weekend in his interview with Don Banks of that Jay Cutler’s $18 million per year deal is holding up the Andy Dalton negotiations, where does that put things? Butch Hobson, Framingham, Mass.

BUTCH: With Marv unburdening himself a little bit, that indicates to me the sides are a lot closer than they were a month ago, but not there yet, obviously. Dalton’s been solid but not spectacular and that why’s it’s a Rubik’s Cube of a problem contractually.

 Both sides have reasonable arguments for Dalton to get everything from Cutler money to about $12 million per year. In order to compromise, the Bengals have to realize paying a quarterback that is even 0-3 in the postseason has gone through the roof and the meter keeps ticking. Plus, he’s got some nice numbers that deserve to be paid.

And Dalton’s people have to realize he’s been the quarterback of a team led by defense the past three years and there’s a ton of money sitting on the table for a kid scheduled to make $1 million this year. It sounds like they’re headed down the path of compromise and a big reason is going to be how the man in the corner office covets quarterbacks and stability, and not necessarily in that order.

That’s why I had to laugh when, in calling Bengals president Mike Brown “intractable,” observed he’s “reluctant to shell out franchise-quarterback money for a signal-caller who has laid three eggs in the past three postseason.”

Heck, Mike Brown is no doubt a big reason the gap has closed. He loves paying quarterbacks. He made Carson Palmer the highest-paid player ever before he even played in a playoff game. And 10 years before that, Brown made Jeff Blake one of the highest paid quarterbacks in 1995 even though he had just 13 NFL starts for a team nowhere near the postseason.

If he’s intractable, it’s not on the subject of quarterbacks and stability. Lewis’ comments and Brown’s philosophy make you think it’s going to get done.

Very little is written about Onterio McCalebb. He has elite speed and is an intriguing dark horse to make a push as a kick returner. Any thoughts on your part about the likelihood of them going with a player like McCalebb over Tate as a kick returner due to the fact that he is younger? Thanks for your time. Andy Linneman, Burlington, KY

ANDY:  McCalebb spent all last season on the practice squad after he switched from running back to cornerback after a productive career at Auburn.  He’s small _ 5-10 about a buck 70 _ but he’s here because of that 4.34-second 40 he ripped off at the 2013 scouting combine. He’s best known for being tutored in the offseasons by Bengals great Ken Riley, one of the all-time cornerbacks that lives near McCalebb in Florida and the man that made the switch from college quarterback when the Bengals drafted him out of Florida A&M in 1969.

You’re exactly right. McCalebb, 24, is intriguing and he’s a longshot. A real longshot. With five first-round corners already lined up, he’d have to grab that sixth and last roster spot with his special teams play. Several things would have to happen.

McCalebb would have to be much more sure of himself returning kicks than he was last preseason, when he had three returns for a 25.3-yard average. There is no indication they are going to ask him to returns punts, which is more about instinct than speed.

So in order to send wide receiver Brandon Tate packing, they’d have to feel good enough about their cornerbacks to make Adam Jones the punt returner. Plus, McCalebb, who is only two years younger than Tate, would have to beat out such corner candidates as Chris Lewis-Harris and sixth-rounder Lavelle Westbrooks, guys that have tons more experience at the position.

McCalebb would also seem to be a candidate to replace wide receiver Andrew Hawkins as a gunner on punt coverage. But he’s already got a rookie in front of him in that spot in seventh-rounder James Wright that has already excelled in that job on a big stage at LSU.

The Bengals love how McCalebb has attacked the position switch and he is so admirable because he basically raised himself. But a lot is going to have to go his way during final cuts for a true 100-to-1 shot.

 Why not pick up Ed Reed? Still has a fair amount left in the tank. Could either start or get plenty of playing time. Can still make plays. We could use some safety help. Who better to teach our DBs than ed reed? Frank Dalessandro, Burlington, KY

FRANK: One telling sign why not is the guy that coached Reed last season in the Houston secondary, Vance Joseph, is now coaching in the Bengals secondary. When Joseph had his chance to get a safety back in March, he jumped all over the other free-agent Texan, Danieal Manning, and not Reed. It makes you wonder. That, and nobody else is knocking down the door, either.

No question Reed is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and he’s got seven picks in the last two years. But, remember, one of the pre-draft themes was how old the Bengals are getting in the secondary (safety Reggie Nelson turns 31 this season). It was surprising enough that they signed Manning, turning 32 in August. But he’s still four years younger than Reed.

Maybe this will be a moot point by the time your feature appears, but what gives with Dennard's contract? The people before and after him have signed , and the money is slotted so what's the holdup? Any chance Dalton and the Bengals meet in the middle with $15 million with incentives?  John Hambrecht, Gainesville, Texas

JOHN: The best guess here is that one of the details in those two contracts slotting Dennard didn’t sit well with one of the two sides. Whatever it is, a detail is no doubt holding it up because the money is already set by the CBA. It won’t be long now.

That’s a nice number you got there at $15 million. That would seem to make sense. I still think a big part of the deal is going to be a schedule of milestones. You play like Cutler, we’ll pay you like Cutler. You win the Super Bowl, we’ll pay you like Flacco. Of course, don’t play like Sanchez or Schaub.

Rey Maualuga is looking for an encore after coming off his best season.

 Do you think vinnie Rey is the better option at middle LB,thus making Rey Maualuga trade bait? Possibly Dallas would be interested. James Johnson, Springfield, OH

JAMES: Maualuga is clearly the Bengals guy. Trades for starters very rarely happen. They love Vinny. He’s fast, but even though he’s undersized he makes up for it with his smarts and desire.  But he’s a college free agent and Maualuga was once projected in the top ten. He’s big and fast and coming off his best season.

How much impact will Lamur's return have on the Bengals defense? Jeffrey Kulovitz, San Antonio, Texas

JEFFREY: Incalculable. They’re getting a long (6-4), lean (245 pounds), speedster (4.5ish, 46ish in the 40) that can wreak havoc on all three downs. You figure he’s the starting SAM backer as well as one of the two starting nickel backers with Vontaze Burfict. He’s that blueprint hybrid player that can cover as well as blitz as a former college safety.

He gives them speed and length they just didn’t have last year. Can he be the Cam Chancellor of linebackers?   They’re hoping his speed and size can make him kind of a Carlos Dunlap at linebacker, a guy that always seems to force turnovers.  

I believe that Cincinnati can run the ball like San Francisco and Seattle and if that happens, I believe Dalton will look more consistent like Russell Wilson. But, for all this to happen we'll need a good O-line. Who do you see starting training camp at the starting positions and do you think the unit will be good enough to achieve that kind of success on the ground? Jonathan Jeffries, Huber Heights, OH

JONATHAN; Couldn’t agree with you more. That’s my stat from last year. Dalton chucked the ball 586 times while a Seattle team with an outstanding defense didn’t let Wilson get out of hand with 407 attempts.

The Bengals have two outstanding run blockers at tackles in Andrew Whitworth on the left and Andre Smith on the right. Right guard Kevin Zeitler also makes his hay in the running game. As for how they line up at center and left guard at the beginning of training camp, it may depend on how fourth-round pick Russell Bodine looks at center the rest of the spring camps.

Center Mike Pollak is resting his knee for training camp and Bodine and Trevor Robinson have been running with the 1s. They could start camp with Bodine at center and put Pollak at  left guard with Clint Boling (ACL) expected back later in camp.

Of course, it would be a bit unnerving to start a rookie center in Baltimore against Haloti Ngata and the men on Sept. 7. But then, all the more reason to run it. The thing Bodine gives them is the physicality and strength they need to pound it like they say they want to pound it. How long it takes them to get some chemistry may be a question, but going by the numbers it’s a line that fits with a smash-mouth style.  

Is Cobi Hamilton expected to make the roster and contribute this upcoming season?

David Brothers, Harveysburg, OH

DAVID: Nothing is expected. Hamilton looks to be in a roster scrum with four-year veteran Ryan Whalen and seventh-rounder James Wright for that last spot at receiver. Not known as a special teams maven, Hamilton is going to have to excel in the preseason kicking game to make it.  

Did Brent Musburger order season tickets yet? Seriously, how much are the Bengals going to miss Mike Zimmer? Can this defense maintain it's standing with the new coordinator? Greg Dressman, Florence, KY

GREG: Do the Bengals lead the league in beauty queens?  They have a former Miss Louisiana in Melissa Whitworth and a former Miss Alabama in Katherine Webb. Access Hollywood, I would think, has applied for a season-long media pass and I hope I’m kidding.

Zimmer had such a forceful personality and an eye for detail…sure it’s a blow. The thing I think they’ll miss is how comfortable he was coaching all positions. He’d get in a defensive end’s face on rush technique before wandering over to the secondary and get on the corners about flipping their hips.

But Zimmer’s loss is cushioned by his replacement. Paul Guenther was literally in his ear for years on Sundays from the press box while Zimmer patrolled the sidelines. Guenther not only knows the defense in and out, but as the former linebackers coach he knows the personnel as well as anyone. The big thing the Bengals have going for  them is continuity on all three fronts: Scheme, coaching, and players. Plus, their two new defensive assistants, Joseph and linebackers coach Matt Burke, have excellent reps around the NFL.

Yes, they’ll miss Zimmer. But they shouldn’t somersault out of the top ten, either.

Mike Pollak's knee should be ready to go for training camp, but will he be at guard or center?

What have the Bengals done, above and beyond all the other 2013 playoff teams, that fans can look to, with expectations of better results this season? They lost both coordinators and have two key defensive players hoping to come back from devastating injuries, plus lost big talent in free agency. What hope do we have? Kurt Messer, Hilliard, OH

KURT:  None of those things are going to impact how the Bengals fare in 2014. Let’s face it. This season isn’t going to be decided by some big free agent or if Geno Atkins is going to be ready for the first camp practice or the 15th camp practice. (We already know Leon Hall will be ready practice 1.)

How does the offense play? That’s it. That’s what counts this year.

Does Dalton cut down his turnovers? Does the running game take the heat off Dalton and the defense? To that end, they made some pretty good upgrades in the draft (Bodine and Jeremy Hill) and the change in offensive coordinator should help Dalton’s numbers, according to Hue Jackson’s track record. Everybody wants a major move. But here’s a team that won 11 games and lost two starters. It’s football. Not baseball where you can wheel in a left-handed bat or arm in September. To me, this is a coach’s offseason tweaking the blueprint.   

Hey Hobson! How much of a competition is there between Vincent Rey and Rey Maualuga? V. Rey played great last season but I've also heard that the coaches were just experimenting.  Luke Pounds, New Madison, OH

LUKE: See above. There’s always competition but Maualuga is the starter, cut-and-dried. Vinny is invaluable as a backup special teamer and he did a great job playing for Maualuga when he was hurt last year. But that was for only a month. And because of his size, Vinny is probably a better fit outside.

The roster looks good! Just wondering who are the most likely guys to get that third starting LB spot? Jon Davis, Brandon, FL

JON: Looks like Emmanuel Lamur is the leader at SAM with young guns Jayson DiManche, Sean Porter, and Marquis Flowers trying to be the backup.

I thought when Gio Bernard was drafted, it was said that he was a pretty good kick/punt returner. Do you think he'd ever be put into the returner position or is that too risky for a primary RB like him? Thanks. Who Dey Colin Madigan, Westerville, OH

COLIN: Giovani Bernard is now your starting running back. If they could put him in the Popemobile in the preseason, it wouldn’t be safe enough. May he never even drop back to catch a punt in practice even for just the heck of it.


Do you have a question for Geoff Hobson?  Ask it here








Recent Articles

Recent Videos