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Baker's release sets up final battle on D-line

With Chris Baker gone, the Bengals are looking at young guys to back up Andrew Billings (left) at nose tackle.
With Chris Baker gone, the Bengals are looking at young guys to back up Andrew Billings (left) at nose tackle.

Friday morning's release of veteran defensive tackle Chris Baker seems to leave the Bengals with a pretty cut-and-dried choice when it comes to determining the ninth and presumably last spot on the defensive line. There are two more pre-season games and eight days until the final cuts, but the choice looks to be between a pair of young tackles in fifth-rounder Andrew Brown and first-year nose tackle Josh Tupou.

Both were hurt early in training camp and both came back to practice this week and head coach Marvin Lewis they'll play Sunday (4 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) in Buffalo , but they're vastly different players. The 6-3, 296-pound Brown (hamstring) is everything but a nose tackle and lines up inside as a three technique but he can also kick out to the edge.

It will be recalled that Tupou (knee), an undrafted 350-pounder out of Colorado last year, was assigned to the practice squad out of training camp and played 19 snaps in one game. When he didn't have any stats in Tennessee, he was inactive for the last four games and spent a fifth back on the practice squad.

The dilemma that seems to be surfacing is that the Bengals have just one pure nose tackle other than Tupou in starter Andrew Billings, although they have been rotating the undersized but tenaciously effective 6-3, 300-pound Ryan Glasgow in there. Brown has some intriguing athleticism to him and it makes for a good debate.

"That's why we play the preseason," said Lewis, who also said he has "a lot of confidence," in Glasgow playing both spots.

Brown indicated Friday he's back to where he was before he got injured when he was having an impressive camp. His goals are pretty fundamental.

"Make plays, but make plays in the range of my job in the defense," Brown said before Friday's walk-through.

The Bengals threw down what amounted to a $500,000 gamble on the 30-year-old Baker to find his form that made him a top-flight run-suffer in Washington a few years ago. They gave him a $300,000 signing bonus and paid about $100,000 in a work-out bonus and have cleared about $2 million under the salary cap. He played just nine snaps in Dallas last Saturday after fighting through some nicks all camp and with Brown and Tupou back playing it wasn't enough to bump them.

"It's not a good look when you keep a veteran guy here and you don't give him an opportunity to show what he can do," Lewis said. "You can't keep drafting and you can't keep getting better as a team if you don't bet getter. That's our goal."

There's a lot to like with the rookie Brown out of Virginia. Lewis just wants to see him do it for two games.

"He's got a lot of the attributes we like," Lewis said. "He's got some explosiveness. He's got length to him."

Baker is the third guy at least 30 years old that has been cut in the last three weeks. The thirtysomethings that are left aren't going anywhere with the oldest long snapper Clark Harris at 34, punter Kevin Huber at 33, defensive lineman Michael Johnson at 31 and defensive tackle Geno Atkins, wide receiver A.J. Green, quarterback Andy Dalton and linebacker Vincent Rey all 30.