Choice thoughts

8-16-03, 7:05 p.m.

With the Bengals opening their home season this weekend, here are the rumblings after Bengaldom has watched the first stages of the Marvin Lewis era in some choice Hobson's Choice:

I know the 2003 season hasn't started yet, but you'll have to excuse this fan for thinking ahead. I'm interested in the long haul. Pat Kirwan at NFL.com reported that the Eagles have 52 players under contract through 2005 (the league average is 26) and tons of cap room. No fan wants to see their team cut or be unable to resign a quality player because of cap problems. To help put my concerns at ease, I'd like to know when some of the Bengals' more talented players contracts are up and if you predict any possible problems holding on to any up and coming stars like Chad Johnson or Justin Smith? Tim, Bloomsburg, PA.

TIM: The Bengals are in pretty good shape when it comes to starters locked up beyond '03, although starting offensive linemen Mike Goff and Matt O'Dwyer become free agents after the season, as do backup running back Brandon Bennett and reserve wide receivers Ron Dugans and Danny Farmer, as well as punter Nick Harris. Backup quarterback Shane Matthews is also on a one-year deal.

But the big year is clearly 2004, the last year for such players as wide receiver Chad Johnson, quarterback Jon Kitna, defensive tackle Tony Williams and cornerbacks Jeff Burris and Artrell Hawkins.

The big guys?

Running back Corey Dillon is signed through '05, right tackle Willie Anderson through '06, left tackle Levi Jones through '06, defensive end Justin Smith through '06 and middle linebacker Brian Simmons through '08.

**I am certain that the bengals will have a lot better year just because of having a consistant person at QB and with the addition of the physical fitness program along with some discipline from the coaching staff which has been

sorely missing for several years. I don't believe the bengals will miss Akili S. And with the developement of Carson P. we should have a QB for the future. I believe it is time for the fans to get back behind the bengals instead of bashing management. Put the blame where it belonged, (COACHING) and lack of desire by many players. Go Bengals Don, Texas.**

DON: After 12 straight non-losing seasons, every level in the organization has to share in the responsibility. If the coaches were that bad, why weren't they fired? If many players didn't care, why didn't the coaches and scouts find players who did care? If the conditioning was that bad, why didn't the coaches change it, or insist on a tougher off-season regimen and daily practices during the season? In a big-picture view, there is always a lot of activity in the background.

Give Mike Brown credit on two fronts. He has always taken responsibility for the losing, and he chosen to do things a new and different way. **

I read your columns every morning as well as the columns concerning the Bengals on ESPN.com, CNNSI.com, etc. and the one person who I am interested in this summer is Levi Jones. I have yet to see anything written on him anywhere, which means he isn't stinking up the place, but also seems to mean he isn't destroying defensive lineman either. Just was hoping to get an update on our left tackle, hopefully he is bulldozing all who attempt to get by him. Thanks, Geoff, Todd.**

Todd: Thanks for reading. When it comes to left tackles, no news is good news. Jones looks a little bit stronger in the upper body, which is where he really needed to put on some muscle. The speed rushers won't bother him. It's the guys who try to bull him, but it looks like he is responding so far. The club is very excited with the athleticism on the left side with Jones and rookie guard Eric Steinbach. Where that should really show up is down field and on the perimeter in the running game. **

I was watching John Madden's commentary of the Hall of Fame Game on monday night, and he was speaking about the Tampa Bay defense. He said that dominant defenses like Tampa have dominant players at all three defensive levels (line, linebacker, secondary). I see this developing with the Bengals. Either Justin Smith, or John Thornton will hopefully take over the D line. Brian Simmons or Kevin Hardy can dominate the linebacker spot, and Tory James will hopefully be that long needed "shut down" corner. That's how I see this formula working. What do you think? Have any camp battles proven me wrong yet? Mike, Louisville, Ky.**

MIKE: You've pretty much hit it on the head, but Marvin Lewis isn't into a star system. He thinks he can turn players into stars with his coaching and the player's attitude. You're right, though. In the NFL, you need a premier pass rusher and a shut-down corner to win the Super Bowl. And Tory James is the best corner they've had since Eric Thomas ripped up his knee in that ill-fated 1990 pickup basketball game.

Since Ray Jackson didn't play football last year, is he still considered a rookie and is he therefore eligible for the rookie developmental squad?

Jackson, the running back out of Michigan and the University of Cincinnati, is a rookie and is a candidate for the practice squad, but he is making a run at the 53. Big decision coming up. Backup running back Brandon Bennett is proven and true. But he's also 30 and has been nicked lately. **

The punter competition sure looks like a good one after watching both perform well this weekend. Who do you think has the "leg up" on the competition, Harris or Dorsch? Looks like we can't loose with either choice! Thanks for your thoughts, Linda, Cincinnati.**

LINDA: Thanks for your kind e-mail, and was happy to hear how much you enjoyed Scrimmage Weekend. If the Bengals, as expected, return to Georgetown for the next few years, that weekend may become a rite of Cincinnati summers. Take the kids, get a room on Route 62 Friday night after the scrimmage, and head back to Cincy after the Mock Game Saturday morning.

Not much has changed since your note because trying to judge the kickers in that New York monsoon would have been ridiculous. This is still Harris' job to lose. Dorsch can be more spectacular, but he's also not as steady. This is a job where the challenger is going to have to win by a knockout, and while Dorsch is going to provide some roundhouse shots, the question is if he can go 15 rounds with Harris' consistency.

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