Hobson's Choice: peeks ahead

Posted Jun 10, 2014

It's not mandatory like minicamp, but every Tuesday the readers check in .

Trivia question: Which of Cleveland's 13 starting QBs against the Marvin Lewis Bengals has re-surfaced in Cincinnati?

Who will be the starting QBs on November 6th (Thursday Night Football) when the Browns come to Paul Brown Stadium? a. Dalton vs Hoyer b. Dalton vs. Manziel c. McCarron vs Manziel d. McCarron vs Hoyer e. None of the above. V  Raju, Loveland, OH

V: How come no E) or F), Jason Campbell vs. Manziel or Hoyer? Of the 13 Browns quarterbacks who have started in 22 games against Marvin Lewis’ Bengals, Campbell is the only one that has turned up in Cincinnati when he surfaced back in March to back up Dalton.
Well, he won’t be starting against his old mates.  McCarron won’t be expanding his reality TV role, either. The storyline here is two Lone Star State QBs in their first battle for supremacy of Ohio.

The answer is B.

 If the Bengals thought they needed the draft to replace Dalton at some point this year, they would have taken a quarterback in the first or second round and wouldn’t have signed Campbell so early in free agency. Given that they waited until the fifth round tells me they view McCarron as a potential backup who needs a few seasons to develop into a No. 2 and signed Campbell to be the bridge backup for this season.

McCarron isn’t a factor this year. He may be down the road. I like his intangibles and his size, but he needs to get NFL strong. But that’s for later. Right now in ’14 he’s holding the clipboard. Dalton is their guy. The only quarterback controversy is surrounding Dalton’s contract and that will have nothing to do with playing time.

The big question I’ve got on Manziel is will he be healthy on Nov. 6? He plays such a non-NFL game out of the pocket and he’s not a very big guy. When he does that first leap-and-look-one-way-and-throw-the-other, the werewolves are going to be out for body shots and center-field interceptions.

All together now. The 13 Browns starting QBs vs. Lewis since Sept. 21, 2003 (yes, in order):
Tim Couch, Jeff Garcia, Kelly Holcomb, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Ken Dorsey, Brady Quinn, Seneca Wallace, Colt McCoy, Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer, Jason Campbell.

What three things that you will be looking for in training camp that will or will not make you a believer that this team will be ready to make the next step this season? Jonathan Jeffries, Huber Heights, Ohio.

JONATHAN:  A plus turnover differential,  an average of 4.5 yards per carry rushing, and an average of three yards or less defending the run. Of course, it’s ridiculous on my part to attach any stats at all to the preseason because the starters and regulars rarely play. But if they win three or four games that would indicate their depth is as good as people say.

I just think those three stats are important in the mindset of Life with Hue and Life After Zim.  They’ve done well stopping the run, but they’ve almost been as bad in the playoffs defending it as the offense has been as a whole in the postseason. And if you thought the AFC North was a bloodbath now, how about the Steelers lining up with big back Le’Veon Bell and Gio-like back Dri Archer and trying to balance out their offense so it is more smashmouth?

I'm on the fence when it comes to Dalton. They are LOADED offensively, and seem pretty stout defensively. I know he's maturing, but he really is hot or cold, and you can tell from the start of the game which it's going to be. If things start off badly this season, say 1-3, do you see Marvin pulling him? Thanks, Chris Maushart,  Cincinnati

CHRIS: You mean, turn to Jason Campbell or AJ McCarron? I would say California Chrome owner Steve Coburn has a better shot of being Sports Illustrated’s Man of the Year than Lewis pulling Dalton.  

Geoff, As a fan of the Bengals since their inception, it's good to see the team becoming better and more competitive each season. Sure, there's setbacks, but so what. Personally, I'm glad Gruden's gone--I think he abandoned the run game too soon in too many games-- but happy to see Jackson in there. Now, how about telling me the skinny on Rex Burkhead and his chances this season? Thanks so much.  Blair Schofield, New Britain, Conn.

BLAIR: Jackson likes Burkhead a lot and I think he’s one of the many reasons why it’s such a tough call for BenJarvus Green-Ellis to be on the Opening Day roster. Burkhead, the 2013 sixth-round pick from Nebraska, was active for only one game as a rookie but he showed them last preseason and in practice that he’s faster and more athletic than you think.

Plus, he’s got terrific hands and gives it up on special teams. He’s no Giovani Bernard, but this is a guy that can play in games and help you in solid, unspectacular fashion. That said, it’s going to be hard for him to get on the field with Bernard and Jeremy Hill and a lot depends on the game day active list. But I’d be surprised if he didn’t have more of a role than he did last year.

Marvin Jones is still going to get his share of TDs even though the Bengals are committed to the run.

A two parter: 1. The fan poll on touchdown catches: Wouldn't it be logical that the TEs would make more TD's than the WRs if there is an emphasis now on the running game 2. Rey and Rey:  What's the potential for Rey in running situations and Vinnie in 3rd and long? That might even spell Rey a bit unless we get a no-huddle?  Lynn Marshall, Cincinnati

LYNN: The great misnomer about Hue Jackson’s clarion call to emphasize the running game is that it’s going to reduce the passing game. Just the opposite. On paper the hope is it is going to make it more explosive and with Jackson a big believer in vertical routes, wide receivers A.J. Green and Marvin Jones should get more chances to catch touchdowns and not less.

Pass attempts, TD passes and interceptions should theoretically be down with the hope the run jacks up completion percentage and yards per attempt in a more efficient passing game.
Green and Jones are coming off a season they became the first tandem in Bengals history to have double-digit TD catches and they should lead the pack again simply because they’ll have the most chances.

As for linebackers Rey Maualuga and Vincent Rey, they like Maualuga on run downs so he primarily plays first and second downs and not third down. The nickel package at backer for those third-and-11s is left to Vontaze Burfict and Emmanuel Lamur. Vinny Rey, who doesn’t have great size,  is seen as a solid backup and an excellent nickel defender. But he didn’t get on the field in nickel until Lamur and Taylor Mays suffered season-ending shoulder injuries. And he played well, but Lamur and Mays were ahead of him when they went down.

Are the Bengals going to give AJ McCarron a chance to prove his self in the preseason? Tyler Zinck, Franklin, OH

TYLER: He’ll get plenty of work in the preseason games because he needs it. But they’ll be giving him a chance to prove he’s got the potential to be a solid NFL back up down the road, not if he can replace Jason Campbell as the No. 2 this season.

When and how much do you think Andy Dalton will sign a new contract? John Mitcheltree, Cape Coral, Fla.

JOHN: The Bengals’ big extensions with their own players are traditionally are done in the last week of the preseason. (See Willie Anderson, Geno Atkins, Andrew Whitworth, Leon Hall.) Some have come on the verge of training camp, a la Carols Dunlap and Levi Jones.  I’m expecting something like an Aug. 27 announcement for Dalton and Vontaze Burfict, but what the Red Baron secures, I have no idea.

I don’t think he’s getting the $18.3 million average that Kaepernick got because Kaepernick has gone to the Super Bowl and two NFC title games with a better winning percentage. But Dalton’s stats and accomplishments are worthy of a healthy deal and I bet he ends up with a contract that in some instances is better than Kaepernick’s when it comes down to structure.

Given the Bengals’ brutal schedule and being in the toughest division in the AFC, how likely do you think it is that Cincinnati has a down year? Troy Snider, Grove City, OH

TROY: What’s a down year? One and done in the playoffs? I’m assuming you mean their first season in four years without a playoff berth. Or, do you mean an 8-8, 7-9 implosion?  Some pundits are calling for the Bengals to drastically fall off, but barring catastrophic injuries I just don’t see it with the talent level , the different approach on offense, and the continuity on the third-ranked defense.

 It’s dangerous to make predictions looking at any schedule because, as everyone knows, a lot of teams just don’t play like they’re supposed to. What was the difference between the ’12 and ’13 Falcons? Care to call the Sept. 14 home opener with Atlanta?

But I still think the Bengals repeat their 11-5 finish of last year. The biggest thing going against them is not the division or themselves, but the schedule. An early bye week combined with five of the final seven road games that include two away North games is, as you so aptly put it, “brutal.” A 9-7 season may be equivalent to last year’s 11-5 after you throw in all the elite QBs they face:  Brady, Ryan, Luck, Newton, Flacco, Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning,

 Anything in the NFL is likely. But on paper, they have proven this roster is playoff worthy, so that’s a reasonable expectation and if they don’t, that’s a downer. And another one and done would be a crushing downer.

Geoff, About the TE roster, I understand that the Bengals are talking with free agent Alex Smith. With Gresham, Eifert, Brock, and Hewitt already listed, do you think we need more depth there? I know he (Smith) was with the team last year, but is it necessary to look at that position on the team? Thanks. Ryan Flanigan, Ripon, WI

RYAN:  Yeah, the Gresham injury is kind of hard to get the hands around, but I would think they’ll be on the look out to add a body and it could be as soon as mandatory minicamp this week. From what Lewis said last week, he expects both Gresham and Eifert to be ready for training camp. Eifert (shoulder) could even be back for the mandatory, or the final week of spring practice.

The big piece is Smith and re-signing him has to be a priority. They’ve got the receiver in Eifert. Gresham is underrated as a blocker and Smith is a proven NFL blocker, so that covers them if Gresham takes more time to come back from what is an unannounced physical ailment. Remember, they’re only keeping three so the numbers are pretty good.

When you look at the month of October and the tough opponents the Bengals face in that month is October the month that could make or break the season? Ryan Weissinger, Hamilton, Ohio

RYAN:  No question about it. With three playoff teams and the AFC North rival Ravens, October is not exactly a walk in the park. But two things they’ve got going for them are the Sept. 28 bye sets them up for the month and the fact that two of the October games, Panthers on Oct. 12 and Ravens on Oct. 26, are at home.

To me, the make-or-break point of the season is going to be the three-game stretch from Nov. 16-30 all on the road: at New Orleans, Houston, and Tampa Bay. In recent seasons one of those weeks has been the bye, so will they have any legs with the bye nearly two months old? Plus, two of those teams have first-year head coaches, but that’s a bigger advantage earlier in the season. Bill O’Brien in Houston and Lovie Smith in Tampa are going to be settled by then.  They’ve got to get out of that stretch 2-1 to have a shot in December. Tough assignment, but Dalton has been able  in road games, where he has a record of 14-10.

Hi Geoff, Do you see the Bengals picking up a veteran blocking fullback before training camp? Rich Hidy, Cincinnati, OH

RICH:  I used to think so, but now I’m not so sure. I don’t think it’s as much of a priority as it was before the draft. They signed two intriguing undrafted rookies in Nikita Whitklock and Ryan Hewitt and the only way you can know about them is when they put on the pads in training camp. I also think they think Orson Charles is going to be a much better fullback in his second year playing the position and they like what he does for them athletically as a pass catching option. Maybe if people don’t look good in pads early in camp they’d go after a veteran. But I think they like their options at this point.

Given we may sign Andy, will sign AJ, and Vonteze. Does the law firm face a tough training camp given salary cap and gio, peerman and hill as a great combo going forward? David Stewart, Oakville, Ontario

DAVID: BJGE has a tough nut not because of the impending big contracts, but because of the two back-to-back running backs selected in the last two second-rounds. Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill aren’t sitting, so that’s an expensive ($3 million) insurance policy.   

Mr. Hobson: Long time reader here, love your work. I'm graduating college in Alabama in July with a journalism degree and was wondering if you needed an assistant? If not, totally understandable, I also want to know your opinion on if Mike Brown lets Andy play out his final year without signing an extension this offseason..? He's been quoted as saying "Just because someone signed a stupid contract doesn't mean I have to." And I know Kaep's contract has some positives parts to it, It still keeps him under contract with big money implications for a few seasons. Which is more than I want with Andy if he blows it in the playoffs this year, I just want him to show Mike; if you show Mike, he'l show you the money. -Thanks! Trevor

TREVOR: Congratulations on the degree, thanks for the kind words, and we’ll keep you on file.
 Mike has also been quoted as saying, “You need an accomplished quarterback to win the Super Bowl,” and he’s given whopping deal s to QBs that have accomplished less than Dalton. My sense is he wants to get this deal done before the season because many of the parts are in place and they’ve got a shot to win the big game.

You’re right, if you do it Mike will pay you and that’s why I’m sure the deal Dalton eventually gets will not only have very healthy guarantees, but more escalators than the one Kaepernick signed.   

Is the position alongside clear cut starting safety reggie nelson the most open this training camp and the widest open starting role on the defense? with taylor mays, iloka, manning and rookie lewis all fighting for that position, who do you expect to be lining up in it come week 1? Chris Coates,  Reading, Ohio

CHRIS: Don’t forget Shawn Williams, last year’s third-rounder who really came on the second half of the season on special teams. I don’t think it’s all that wide open. You figure Wallace Gilberry and Emmanuel Lamur are going to start at right end and SAM linebacker, respectively, but not without getting pushed by people like Robert Geathers and Vincent Rey.

It’s the same thing with George Iloka, the incumbent safety opposite Nelson. He’ll have to get knocked out of there after making his first 16 NFL starts there last season and he’ll get some run from Williams and Manning.

The most interesting thing there is who are the two safeties they keep after Nelson and Iloka? They’d love to keep Isaiah Lewis because there’d have to be some fear he’d get claimed if they try to waive him to the practice squad.  And, do they count Mays a safety or backer? Keeping him as a swing man has to be appealing.

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