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Bengals take temperature

The Bengals have already started working on re-signing one of their successful one-year tryouts and it's believed they plan to reach out to another after both came off the street to be called "professionals" by head coach Marvin Lewis.

The agent for safety Chris Crocker said Monday that the Bengals called last week and Anthony Paige plans to touch base again this week. After his career 171 yards Sunday, running back Cedric Benson said he feels comfortable in the Bengals scheme and is willing to listen while the Bengals appear willing to talk.

Two other free-agents-to-be, right tackle Stacy Andrews and wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, remain in limbo. What appears to be a devastating knee injury to Andrews has everyone on hold on the offensive line because the rehab could stretch beyond training camp.

Lewis indicated in his Monday news conference that Andrews' injury isn't a typical cut-and-dried tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He said the ACL "and other ligaments," which means Andrews could be looking at a long road because of his 350 pounds and the fact there are multiple ligaments involved.

When the Bengals couldn't sign Andrews to a long-term deal the past few seasons, they put the one-year franchise tag on him this year at $7.5 million and cut four-time Pro Bowler Willie Anderson with the hopes of heating up talks with Andrews again after the season. The injury now throws everything up in the air.

What is the severity? When can he play again? How does that affect their offer? All those questions are now on the table. The Bengals have also braced for Andrews' departure via free agency by extending left guard Andrew Whitworth's contract before the season and giving rookie left tackle Anthony Collins five straight starts. Both could possibly play right tackle, particularly if they draft a left tackle with what is looking to be a top five pick.

When Houshmandzadeh saw Andrews get rolled up in the back of the knee with 5:18 left in the 15th game of the season, it had a profound effect on him.

"Stacy's a good dude and to have that happen to him, it just isn't right," Houshmandzadeh said. "In the 15th game with five minutes left? Oh man, I was hurting for him. It kind of scares you."

Houshmandzadeh said he's not going to let it bother him when he plays what he expects to be his last Bengals home game Sunday against the Chiefs. A franchise tag candidate himself, Houshmandzadeh bristles because "it means you think he's worth that much to be on your team," he said. "Then pay him what he's worth (long term)." After watching what happened to Andrews, Houshmandzadeh says he'd have trouble coming to the spring camps if he had the tag.

But the talks that are here and now look to involve Crocker. Cut by the Dolphins back in October, he has played in the last six games, started two at each safety spot, had a sack and interception in the tie with Philly, set up the Washington win with a forced fumble on the first drive, and helped secure Sunday's shutout of the Browns team that drafted him.

"I'm definitely having fun and its great the guys have confidence in me," said Crocker, who has gained Lewis' high regard in the locker room.

"I think his mentorship of the guys, for a guy who came in off the street, has been excellent," Lewis said. "Hes a veteran, and in his mentorship of Leon (Hall) and the other guys in the secondary, he's been a great role model."

The Maryland-based Paige says his client likes the fit and the club is has indicated it would like to get it done.

"Just a general conversation but I expect it to heat up," Paige said. "He does become an unrestricted free agent, but we're willing to listen to what they have to say."

Benson, represented by Eugene Parker, had the best of his 10 games with the club Sunday, not only yardage-wise but also with his reads and being in sync with the offensive line.

As the most senior assistant coach in the NFL, running backs coach Jim Anderson has seen it all in 25 years. But what Benson has done since he showed up Sept. 30 has even impressed him.

"What you have to remember is that everyone has a different scheme; everyone has a different philosophy," Anderson said. "It's very tough to come in here and squeeze in OTAs and training camp during the season when you're already on the run. He's done a tremendous job just doing what he's done."

At various points during the season, Anderson always hooks up his backs with the offensive line and they reconnect on fundamentals. They did it before the Browns game in preparation for a smashmouth matchup.

"At some point you have to retrace so everybody understands the concept of what we're trying to do. It was time for us to do that. Last week was a good sign," Anderson said.  

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