Hobson's Choice: camping out

Posted Jul 29, 2014

The readers want to know how Hue Jackson can take the offense to the NFL elite.

No word yet when Geno Atkins returns to practice, but write him down in ink for the opener in Baltimore.

Forever Bengal fan and love your commentary on the team. Just wondering if there is any time line on Geno Atkins return? I understand they don't want to rush anything and it is only camp but was also wondering on a time line for him to get back in "football" shape. Thanks. Tim Jenkins, Chillicothe, OH

TIM: Thank you for checking in from the hometown of the 1969 AFL Rookie of the Year, Bengals great Greg Cook.

You’ve asked the right question, but the wrong guy has the answer because head coach Marvin Lewis always keeps that stuff close to the vest. Given what Lewis said last week at the training camp luncheon (“I want to lay eyes on Geno for a few days”) it would tell me we’re close. My sense is he’d be back so he can play in the third preseason game, but you can understand why they are bringing along a premier player slowly. From what I’m hearing you can write him in as an Opening Day starter.

Geoff, I enjoy your coverage of my Bengals. Keep up the good work. My question- What are the chances LaKendrick Ross makes this team? Does he look like a likely PS fit or does he just not have what it takes to make it in the NFL because of his lack of experience playing football? He is a very intriguing guy, to say the least. Thanks, Rick LaRue, Lawrenceville, PA

RICK: Thank you for dropping me a line. If Ross makes the team, it would be the most stunning thing in Bengaldom since Jeff Blake came off the bench to throw two bombs against the Super Bowl champion Cowboys.

That’s right. Oct. 30, 1994. About six months after Ross was born. And that’s what makes it virtually impossible for him to make the 53-man roster. Not only are they teaching him things the other guys were taught when they were in grade school, but he’s just so young. As you read today, defensive line coach Jay Hayes had to show him the right stance. That’s really Football 101 without the amenities of the Marvin Lewis Community Fund.  

But if there’s a perfect practice squad guy, Ross would have to be it, wouldn’t he? He’s got all the physical specifications for NFL defensive tackle and more. Plus, he seems to have a great attitude. Very eager to learn and willing to listen to the older guys.

And that’s another thing he and the Bengals have going for them. They have such a great group of guys, particularly on the defensive line, he’ll get the mentoring he needs instead of the cold shoulder.

You are so right. Intriguing is the word. He’ll have to show in games that he’s worthy to develop and he’s already talked about his challenge. Can he mesh that massive physical potential with the subtle, little technique things?  I’d love to see him get a year to find out on the practice squad and not just a month, but its all how he plays in the August games.

Rex Burkead, last year's sixth-rounder, is impressing as a sophomore.

Thanks for taking my questions Geoff. I have two this week. First: Since Hue's system is more run oriented, in theory, Andy should become a better play-action passer. How much of that will we see? And second: How much of an impact will Rex Burkhead have this upcoming season if he is able to beat out BenJarvus Green-Ellis for the spot behind Jeremy Hill? Collin Cleveland, Canon City, CO

COLLIN: Thanks for keeping them rolling. I don’t think you can say Jackson’s system is more run-oriented, but I think you can say his scheme is based on the run and that leads right into your question. It’s like Hue said after practice Tuesday, the goal is to play many different ways. If you have to beat Cam Newton in an 80-degree October shootout, OK. If you have to beat Dick LeBeau in a 27-degree December mosh pit, OK.

But if their linchpin is the run, they’ll be able to use so much more off of it. Andy Dalton said it pretty well after Monday’s practice, too, and I didn’t get a chance to use it. But when I asked him if they’re emphasizing the run more, he said, no, but they are emphasizing the quality of the runs.

And that’s where your play-action comes in, but that’s really Hue’s mindset. If the defense has to be concerned about stopping the run, it opens up the pass. I bet the Bengals end up pretty close in run-pass ratio, but I also bet (my David Ortiz baseball card given to me by Associated Press guru Joe Kay) that they’ll throw a lot more than the 102 play-action passes he threw last year, according to You could see him challenging the league-leading 168 and 165 of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, respectively.

Hey, Monday’s Play of the Day was Dalton’s 50-yard bomb to A.J. Green off play action in short yardage.

Burkhead is a guy on the come. He looks in great shape after meeting twice a week with the track coach of his alma mater Plano High School in Texas.

If he makes it, and he’s got to be considered very much in the mix and maybe even one of the favorites because of his age (24), you have to figure he’s going to be active more than the one game he played last year. That means they’ve got a tough decision on Sundays because do you keep four backs active? You do if two of them are good on special teams and Burkhead is all of that. But with Hill and Giovani Bernard running the ball, it’s hard to see any significant amount of scrimmage work from anybody else.

Geoff, as a native Cincinnatian living in Virginia for 20 plus years now, it's terribly hard to get any Bengals coverage on the national level. I recall the Cincy Post used to do write ups on all the potentially new faces that had a chance to make the squad each year. Although early in camp... who are the young players that have a legitimate chance to make this insanely talented team and who might the team attempt to hide on the practice squad? Lawrence Brooks, Woodbridge, VA

LAWRENCE: Ah, the Post. You know what they used to say. When at least four former and current Cincy sports scribes gather, three of them worked at The Post. (Or, The Boast, as one former Postie, Columbus Dispatch star Todd Jones, would say.) That’s starting to fade as does the memory of all once great afternoon papers. They’ve gone the way of pay phones and cassettes.  LaKendrick Ross or any other 20-year-old has probably never seen any of those.

Sorry, I digress. You can put Ross in there as a practice squad shot when you talk about undrafted rookies.  I really like the brains of Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis and the natural ability of Oklahoma defensive end David King, so they are guys to watch. Keep an eye to on Stanford tight end Ryan Hewitt. Dave Lapham liked how physical he was in 9-on-7.  But, like you say, where are they going on this roster?

 The guy I really like is converted Wake Forest nose tackle Nikita Whitlock at fullback. He’s 5-10, 250, never stops with a solar-powered motor and the place hushes when he crouches in front of a weight. But he’s so raw when it comes to playing the position. He’s been reaching and hunting for the backers, but that’s to be expected. He’ll learn, but how long? Bring on the pre-season games.

Texas guard Trey Hopkins probably has the best shot of any of the free-agent rookies. King got the better of him in a Texas-Oklahoma pass-rush drill on Monday, but Hopkins has NFL feet.

Two draft picks are really going to have to grind to make the roster. Sixth-rounder Marquis Flowers, a linebacker out of Arizona, looked good in the spring but is now behind after sitting out camp so far with a hamstring issue. Seventh-rounder Lavelle Westbrooks, a  cornerback-safety from Georgia Southern, looks like he’s in a tractor pull with four-year veteran R.J. Stanford and Chris Lewis-Harris for that last corner spot. Stanford has the edge with 41 games for two clubs (the last two years with Miami) and has looked good in gunner drills.  Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons has been seeking that kick cover corner for years and Stanford does have 12 career teams tackles.

Hi Geoff. Hope you are enjoying the start of training camp! "Sometimes you gotta' say 'uncle.' Throw it away, take a sack...but get us to the next down with the ball." Hue said this referring to Dalton's approach in the aerial attack. How does the team help him find that fine line between being really aggressive with his throws and maybe a little too safe to cut down on those picks yet still be able to make big plays? Rich Hidy, Cincinnati OH

RICH: It’s been great out here. Frank Marzullo and Steve Horstmeyer couldn’t have drawn up the weather any better. According to the clock, there has only been one day in the 80s. Of course Marvin Lewis is looking to turn up the heat because you have to figure it’s going to be toasty in Kansas City Aug. 7. Not to mention Baltimore on Sept. 7.

That’s the fine line every quarterback has to walk. In order to make plays, you have to chuck it. But three things happen when you throw it and two of them are bad. Hue’s whole thing is don’t put so much on the QB. Put some on Gio. Put some on Hill. Put some on the offensive line so he doesn’t always feel like he has to make the big play all the time. “Uncle,’ is not giving up. “Uncle,’ on a team with the third best defense and a top 12 special teams unit is smart football. They’re too good in the other two phases to be a big-risk offense. But that does not mean it’s not a big-play offense. If Dalton throws eight fewer TD passes (25) and eight fewer picks (12), he had a much better year than last year. They key is going to be that yards per pass.  It should be higher with fewer passes and a better running game. Theoretically a good running game makes the pass less risky.

Hey Geoff, great column each week. I look forward to it every Tues. I've been a Bengals fan since I was 12 (1989) and as of right now, I'm on the fence about what I think this team will do this year. Having said that, I have one question..... Why should I believe this year? Thanks and WHO DEY! Joby Clayton, Lyman, S.C.

JOBY:  Have to answer a NFL question from a guy named “Clayton.”

If you have only one question, I have one answer. The running game.

They have the defense and special teams and that’s what wins championships and the Bengals have virtually everyone back with the same system and specialists. But throw in a running game that controls the clock, and they should take off.

The Bengals are expecting bigger and better things from George Iloka in his second season as a starter.

Hi Geoff, really stoked for this season. My question relates to the position of Safety. This position is so important in my mind, and we seem to be a bit thin there. Who is standing up and out in our backfield, I think our safeties need to do a good job this year to ensure our defense stays in the top 5! David Stewart, Oakville, Ont.

DAVID:  I think that might have been a concern coming into camp, but in the last five days you've got to feel better about it.  They’ve added a Chris Crocker-like veteran in Danieal Manning and he's got his legs back and is clearly the consummate veteran back there. They are expecting bigger things out of George Iloka as he heads into his second year as a starter and he came back in terrific shape and has looked good. Throw in niche players like Taylor Mays and Shawn Williams to go with the stalwart back there in Reggie Nelson, and you’ve got enough talent that it is going to be a tough cut.


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