Hobson's Choice: Taylor-made roster?

Posted Jun 17, 2014

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

Brandon Tate's reliability and professionalism make him a hard guy to kick off the roster.

Even though it's only June have you seen any difference in Margus Hunt? Does he seem to be getting to that "2nd level"? And do you think Mays or Green-Ellis will make the team? It appears the Bengals found their possible replacements in the draft. Philip LeVan, Hamilton, OH

PHILIP: It’s just so difficult to make any judgment on any lineman when not in pads. I can pass on to you what defensive coordinator Paul Guenther told me last week for the story I did on Carlos Dunlap and the new-look defensive line.

He says Hunt looks like a different player and is having a good spring. But that better be the case since the biggest jump for a player is usually from his rookie year to his sophomore season. But let’s see him play some preseason games first.

Mays has a much better shot at making the roster than BJGE. Hard to see them keeping more than four running backs since they’re going to keep three quarterbacks, so I guess it comes down to Green-Ellis or Burkhead with Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, and Cedric Peerman seemingly in the fold. The Law Firm’s professionalism and reliability are well documented. But so is his age. Amazing, but BJGE and Burkhead share the same birthday five years apart. On July 2, The Firms turns 29 and Burkhead 24. That looks to be the answer.

Mays showed his value last season when nickel linebacker Emmanuel Lamur went down with a season-ending shoulder injury in the preseason and the 6-3, 230-pound Mays moved from safety to backer and played well until he suffered the same season-ending injury halfway through the year. That makes him a valuable guy when it comes to the final 53 because he can be both your seventh linebacker and ninth defensive back and you can keep an extra guy at one of those spots.

Throw in special teams and he’s a niche player in a game that continues to get more specialized and be more conducive for hybrids like Mays. I think he makes it.

If you look at the Bengal defense you can argue over the most valuable pieces in this formidable group. On the one hand Gino Atkins is the real deal and can cause so much havoc as a three down player. Even when double teamed he is a force. He clearly makes everyone better around him.

On the other hand look at Bufict and what he brings to the team. If you want to know how valuable he is just think for a second about heading into Pittsburgh or Baltimore this fall without him. My question is how the heck did they ever not draft him in 2012. I mean look at the draft (it was a good one) for the Bengals but why didn't they draft him with the last pick instead of Boom Herron?

Look at the others drafted above him. He was the Bengals stud draft pick. Marvin seems to say he was intrigued and impressed with Bufict at his visit out in Arizona so why didn't the Bengals or any other team take him with a 7th round flyer? What was Duke Tobins read on Burfict? I'd love to know because I really believe Tobin has been on a roll with his drafting the last few years. He is a smart guy. Really like to know your insight into how the Bengals got Burfict. Did his pre-draft attitude really drop him from first round can't miss right out of the draft. On a lot of televised games I follow Burfict around the screen and I see one tough intimidator who can really play.

Glenn Paleczny, North Bay, Ontario

GLENN: No question.  When I wrote on Burfict last week I was attempting to show how much the people on his defense believe in him.

The Bengals had no seventh-round flyer to take on Burfict since they had sent it and cornerback David Jones to Jacksonville for safety Reggie Nelson in some petty theft. They took Herron in the sixth round, their last shot to get him. As Tobin has said, the guys you get at that point are guys you’ve ranked higher, in rounds 3-5. There just aren’t enough spots to take them.

You’ve answered your own question on how much damage Burfict did to himself. Don’t ask why the Bengals didn’t take a flyer. Why didn’t one of the 31 other teams take one? That’s the scary thing. Remember, Marvin told the agent during the draft they weren’t going to take him.

That’s why his story is so amazing. He’s come from such a long way. Who knows if they had a seventh-round pick what would have happened? But clearly Lewis sensed if Tez didn’t get drafted, he had more than the inside track. He had the whole track. He offered Tez 1,000 bucks and he didn’t blink. Now Burfict is probably looking at a $6 million average if he signs an extension.

Hey Geoff, Bengals fan since '81, love your coverage. Question: With most of the pieces back on both sides of the ball, do you think there should be major scheme adjustments from the new coordinators? My thoughts are more on the offensive side with power running and short throws to the tight ends to open up the long ball, but I'd like your take on it. Should 2014 feature major changes, or situational adjustments? Thanks. Ryan Flanigan Ripon, WI

RYAN: Thanks for the kind words and I’m a situational guy all the way.

Here’s a team that other than New Orleans is the only team in the NFL last year that was top ten in both offense and defense. Here’s a team that has made the playoffs three straight seasons. Only New England and Denver have done that in the AFC. Here’s a team that has won 30 games in the last three years. Why blow it all up? Tweak it. Massage it. Keep the ball. Drain the clock. You’ve got a top ten defense and special teams. Hog the ball, cut the risk, play slightly more conservative than the Tea Party, and manage the game.

You’ve heard me before on the offense. Everyone says it’s a passing league until Jan. 1. Then everyone wonders why you can’t win in the playoffs. RUN THE BALL! Yeah, they’re terribly inconsistent running the ball, but that’s because it’s been an afterthought instead of a staple.

New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is committed to changing it and I think he’s also committed to taking the load off Andy Dalton. A big adjustment that has to make is cutting his pass attempts from 586 to closer to Russell Wilson’s number of 407.

To heck with the short stuff. The running game should open up the deep ball and with Jackson’s experience under Al Davis you can believe they’ll be running many more vertical routes.

On defense, the sense is that new coordinator Paul Guenther is going to blitz more than Mike Zimmer. Guenther’s passion is finding matchups the offense can’t counter. But other than that, you’ve got 10 starters back in the same system for the third-ranked defense. Just tweak it.

I've heard talk about Bodine being the center of the future and someone strong enough to handle the nose tackles in our division but that he's not ready to make the calls on the line? If Pollack moved to guard why couldn't he make the calls and the checks as Bodine learns?  Chad Sass, Dayton, OH

CHAD: Not just Pollak, but if Boling is healthy or of they think Tanner Hawkinson is ready, they all know the system and can help him at left guard. That was left tackle Andrew Whitworth’s point last week. Bodine isn’t walking into a vacuum. He’ll be on a veteran line that can help him with the calls, particularly those tough calls on the outside at tackles, where Whitworth and Smith have combined for more than 130 NFL starts.

Geoff, I seem to recall the coaches raving about Tyler Eifert in training camp and pre-season last year, but during the season his production was so-so. Do you see him being more productive catch wise this season? Also, it seemed to me that Jermaine Gresham was not with the program mentally last year. A lot of dropped passes and penalties. Is he on a short leash with the coaching staff? Thanks Geoff! Mike McNamara, Cincinnati, Ohio

MIKE: You’re right, the coaches were far from pleased with Gresham last year and there was a sense that Eifert didn’t get the chances everyone thought he was going to get as a rookie. Particularly deep. In the afterglow when he dropped to them in the first round, the thinking was they had just caught a guy that was going to catch 50-60 balls and he ended up with 39.

I think he gets more this year and he scores more than two TDs. Methinks Jackson is going to wear him out deep down the middle of the field. But I don’t think it is at the expense of Gresham. No question Gresham fell off last year. But Marvin Lewis thinks he can tame his raging inconsistencies. And he’s extremely important in the suddenly important running game because he’s regarded as an underrated and effective blocker.

 From all indications, Jackson is committed to two tight end sets, so I don’t see Gresham disappearing. What is interesting is that both Gresham (unknown) and Eifert (shoulder) missed the spring with injuries and we barely saw two tight ends.

Lewis has said both will be ready for training camp, so we may see a whole new show.

Geoff, I know I sometimes I get too hyped up and over exuberant about the team and I've been harping on the Bengals building a team identity for too long. IMO, a team's identity is earned through defining moments and events that the team creates and earns in the midst of the battle of games and the season. It can be a big comeback win from a big deficit, a shutdown defensive game(s) like the Ravens in 2000, or just a dominant year where a team wins playoff home field advantage (Bengals 1988) and ends up in the Super Bowl. Am I way over blowing this team identity thing and howling at the full moon (tomorrow night) again, or is there really something to this team identity thing? Charie Luttrell, Oxford, Ohio

CHARIE: I don’t think you need to be committed or anything like that. You talk sense and that’s really what this upcoming season is all about. The Bengals identity is they don’t have one. The werewolf baying at the moon (in Pittsburgh and Baltimore on prime time) can suddenly transform into Tom Hanks at the Oscars (8-0 at home and the slayers of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers) at the drop of a beanbag.

To me, you get your identity with consistency and that means you have to hang your hat on something. The Bengals offense has to do what the defense did and get that M.O. Zimmer relied on rushing four and dropping everyone else in smothering the best QBs the league has to offer. Jackson’s task is to take a talented offense and make it coherent by doing a couple of things well (running the ball, throwing deep) instead of trying to do everything.

Seems like the battle for safety is one of the toughest this offseason. Assuming they keep Reggie Nelson and Danieal Manning, and they only keep 4 safeties, who makes the cut out of Mays, Iloka, Williams, and Lewis? In my humble opinion, all 4 have major upside. Personally, I like them all over manning, but it seems like they would keep Manning after signing him from Houston. Thoughts? Aaron Newport, Indianapolis, Ind.

 AARON:  Great question. You’re right. They like Manning because they see him as a younger (not much at 32) Chris Crocker that gives them versatility as a nickel corner as well as brains. But I think he’s far from a lock heading into training camp for the reasons you suggest, age and potential.

There has to be a spot for Mays in this day and age because of his versatility. They like what Iloka did as a starter and think he can get better. They also like what Shawn Williams did on special teams. That would put Manning and Lewis on the outside looking in. But, if you make Mays your sixth backer, you could keep that extra safety and that would probably be between Manning and Lewis.

But if you keep Mays as a backer, you may have to cut one of two draft picks at backer that they like in Porter or Marquis Flowers, so…you got me. It all depends, as they say, how they play. I think somehow they keep four safeties plus Mays. If they think they can get Lewis to the practice squad, they will, I would think. But all eyes are going to be on Manning in the preseason to see how he comes off the broken leg.

Mr. Hobson, do you think Brandon Tate will have the same role in the return game as he did last season with the signing of Jeff Scott? Or do the Bengals have another guy in mind that might be able to take the place of Tate? Collin Cleveland, Canon City, Colo.

COLLIN: Please don’t call me “Mr. Hobson.” That will always be my father, the late great Roy Hobson.

If there’s a guy that’s going to replace Tate on this roster, where is he? I just don’t see him. The one thing I can see is the emergence of Darqueze Dennard allowing Adam Jones to return punts. But enough to be the main punt returner? Maybe, and at that point maybe you press a guy into service on kickoffs, but I don’t see that guy either. You don’t want Giovani Bernard or Marvin Jones going back there.

Hard to see Jeff Scott making this club. Scott, the free-agent rookie from Mississippi, is an intriguing guy as a developmental player. But if that other free agent running back from Mississippi is having a hard time making it, BJGE, where does that put Scott?

Someone could have a great preseason returning kicks and they have to make room for him on the 53-man roster, but it would be a surprise.

Outside of Jones taking more of a role on punts, I don’t think it alters Tate’s position. Everyone wants him to score more TDs, but here is a very solid guy who has better speed than you think. He’s not spectacular, but he’s solid enough that this team has always been ranked close to the top ten in special teams with him returning both kicks and punts.

Butch, Love your insider perspective. Understanding Dalton is the replacement for Palmer, could you compare the numbers and does Dalton outperform Palmer? It seems Palmer has that extra zip it takes to be a championship QB, put a team on his shoulders and win a game when a win is needed. Troy Chapman, Richwood, OH

TROY: Thank you. Here you go. Dalton-Palmer first 48 starts:

Dalton: A 30-18 record with 80 TDs, 49 INTs; 1,630 attempts, 992 completions for a 60.9 percentage for 11,360 yards for 7.0 yards per pass.

Palmer: A 26-22 record with 87 TDs and 47 INTs; 1,586 attempts-1,012 completions for a 63.8 percentage on 11,705 yards with a 7.4 yards pass.

There’s no question that Palmer is the better passer. No surprise. He was, after all, the Heisman Trophy winner and the No. 1 pick in the draft and he had that kind of sheer talent that can carry you. Dalton was the 35th player and fifth quarterback taken. So he’s a different kind of talent, but a talent. He’s also proven that he’s good enough to take you to the playoffs and win big games on the road getting you there.  And those passing numbers aren’t as far off as some people might think.

For all of that great talent (and a knee injury robbed him), Palmer is also still seeking a post-season win.



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