Hobson's Choice


Hi Geoff, Thanks for taking my question. Do you view the offensive line as the weakest position group on the team? It seems that many of the players are unproven and two of the opening day starters could be making their first NFL starts with Whit, Hawkinson, Bodine, Zeitler, and Smith as the early favorites.  Rich Hidy, Cincinnati, OH

RICH: It would certainly be the least experienced starting unit on the roster, wouldn't it? SAM linebacker Emmanuel Lamur has only one start in his career, which just happened to be the   Wild Card Game after the 2012 season.

It seems like fourth-round pick Russell Bodine is their guy at center and I think they'll be fine there. Bodine's got a nice nasty streak and a real serious demeanor. The last week of workouts he struggled with some high shot-gun snaps early in practice and when I asked him about it he looked right through me with an Arctic stare. "It will get worked out,' he said simply.

And it did even during that practice. He worked on it on the side with offensive line coach Paul Alexander and when he got back in the practice, the snaps were fine, which shows you he's conscientious and coachable.

They like Hawkinson, but I don't think he gets the Opening Day start. Clint Boling has had a tremendous ACL rehab and could be back in time. If not and Bodine is still the center, I would think Mike Pollak is the left guard. If Pollak is the center, then he can cover for Hawkinson's inexperience if Boling isn't ready. So either way they'll probably have only one inexperienced lineman in Baltimore Sept. 7.

I know the offensive line seems to be a vulnerable target, but I think they're in much better shape than last year against San Diego in the playoffs or even in the opener in Chicago. Right tackle Andre Smith missed the entire spring for personal reasons, left tackle Andrew Whitworth never worked in the spring, barely worked in the preseason, and missed the opener, and right guard Kevin Zeitler was never right after he injured his foot in November.

All three were back at full strength this spring, so you've got to feel like they'll all be better physically. And you put Pollak in there and Bodine has plenty of experience around him, particularly on the perimeter at tackle, where it's imperative they know what's going on with a rookie center.

Hi Geoff I was born in Cincinnati but now live in Connecticut. My daughter and I, along with her boyfriend the last couple of years, make the trip to Bengals camp every summer. Can you tell me when a detailed camp schedule will be coming out so that we can make our plans? Thanks. Bob Harris, New Fairfield, Conn.

BOB: I did it the exact opposite. Born in New England and now live in Cincinnati.  So we're from Cincinnati because the kids are. Safe travels. The full camp schedule is expected to be announced the week after The Fourth. I'm guessing somewhere between July 8-10.

I am very excited about the talent on this Bengals squad! However I have some issues with their mental toughness. Just like any employee at any employer, the employee usually takes on the personality of the boss. Or in this case the head coach. Now I don't believe from an X's and O's standpoint that Marvin does much wrong or his coordinators for that matter, but come playoff time the record speaks for itself! 0-5.

I watch every game the Bengals play and it looks almost as if Lewis is either nervous or totally emotionless on the sideline at times come game time. During the regular season there is not as much stress because if you lose there is always another game to make up ground, but come playoff time it's a different mentality!! Do you think the players pick up on this persona and play weak in clutch moments due to a weak mindset imposed by Marvin? Thanks. Marcus Cathcart, Dayton, Ohio

MARCUS: I have to disagree with you on a couple of fronts.

Every NFL game starts out as a grinder, especially in the AFC North where one loss can put you out of the playoffs and to reach the playoffs four out of the last five years means they've won some huge, huge games.  The pressure may be even greater because there's such a premium in reaching the playoffs.

And we're talking about the same guy. The Marvin Lewis of Dec. 23, 2012 that saw the Bengals win-or-die in Pittsburgh is the same guy that saw the Bengals blow it against San Diego this year. I could detect no difference from the Marvin that directed an absolutely must win (42-14 rout of the Vikings) that wrapped up the AFC North title at home to the Marvin of two weeks later that saw the Chargers shock the Bengals at home.

Or, for that matter, his demeanor in the War of 18-12 in Pittsburgh that won the 2009 AFC North in what had to be the most physical game of his tenure. If it is one thing Lewis is, it is tough-minded. Ask his players, who are not always fond of his demanding practices.

I will give you this, though. The Bengals have not played well when the limelight is burning on them. In prime time. The playoffs. You name it. If the camera is on, they're not. But I don't blame that on Lewis. I think that's more of a product of a young team and people forget how young this team was. I say, "was," because that's no longer an excuse with the core of this team fourth- and fifth-year guys.

I do look at the Xs and Os. They haven't run it enough or well enough to run it in the playoffs and that has opened a Pandora's Box for their own defense against the run.

Emotion? Or lack of it by Marvin? I don't buy it. Too many other more tangible reasons.

Hey Geoff, Who Dey! From The Sooner State, do you think the Bengals should go up-tempo, no-huddle more often this year? It seems like Andy seems more comfortable when we go at that pace. Second question, if you had to project one guy who did not make a big impact last year but could be a big contributor this year (whether that be a rookie, FA signee, or member of last year's team) who would you pick? Thanks. Eric Lee, Norman, Okla.

ERIC: I'm wondering what they're waiting for. With matchup nightmares Giovani Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert running around, the no huddle would seem to be the perfect way to get those matchups a la James Brooks and Rodney Holman.

(Sorry kids. Timeout for a history lesson. James Brooks is the mighty mite 5-10, 180-pound running back/wide receiver and Rodney Holman the game-breaking tight end who went to a combined seven Pro Bowls thanks to Sam Wyche's no huddle.)

Dalton is a Princeton point guard, not a pure passer. Heady. Resourceful. Tough. A facilitator and I think he'd do well leading a fast break.

As far as a guy who wasn't around last year making a big impact, it's got to be Lamur at SAM backer. He suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the preseason finale and since he's been back, teammates and coaches have just been raving about him. He keeps getting bigger (6-4, 243) and faster. He can be the Carlos Dunlap of the linebackers when it comes to making athletic, game-busting plays.

*With the new Offense. Looking to run, Can we get Boomer Esiason in here to teach Andy how to PLAY ACTION PASS? Boomer was great as was Jeff Blake, this Andy needs this in his goody bag to fool the defenses.  Loren Smith, Morrow, OH    *

LOREN:  He's done a decent job there. According to profootballfocus.com, he was 10th out of 18 last year in the league in play-action passing for QBs that played at least 75 percent the snaps.

I don't care who you bring in to teach him, your play-action passing is only as good as your running game. Not only does it have to be good (and at 3.6 yards per last year it was not good), defenses have to believe you're committed to the run for the play-action to work and the Bengals have not been committed. Yes, Boomer had one of the best play-action fakes in history. It also helped that in his seven full seasons as the starter they led the NFL in rushing twice, and were second, fourth and fifth in three other years. Dalton's teams have been 19th, 18th, and 18th.

Do the Bengals have an extra offensive linemen they could throw on the field for power running plays like they did with Dennis Roland? If not on their offensive unit how about putting Margus Hunt out there to move some defenders from time to time? Sean Pembleton, Owensville, OH

SEAN:  That always falls to the backup tackles, so I guess there'll be a new drinking game in town because apparently Roland's "No. 74 is eligible," became as well known as "Hi Bob,' for another generation. That could be Marshall Newhouse or Tanner Hawkinson or maybe even new pickup Will Svitek.

The only D-lineman I see playing offense is Domata Peko when he goes to fullback. Hunt isn't an option.  The idea for him to improve this spring was not to put a lot on his plate and let him focus on one spot: left end.

Dalton vs Palmer. Liked you comparison. I'm a big Dalton supporter. I think the biggest thing you missed in this story is discussing "Leadership". I'm not privy to the locker room, but on the field, watching the two QB's, Dalton is head and shoulders above Palmer when it comes to leadership. In the end, I believe that leadership from is QB position is THE most important attribute that a QB must possess. Dalton has it, Palmer does not. Dalton can and will get the team to a Super Bowl!  Dave Harshbarger, Burlington, KY

DAVE: No one asked about leadership, but now that you have, let's go.

There are no stat lines on leadership. No percentages, no yards per, no incentives. You simply can't quantify it. But I have to strongly disagree with you that Dalton is "head and shoulders," above Palmer in leadership and that Palmer didn't have it.

Palmer's legacy is marred by how he walked out on them before the 2011 season. Whatever the opposite of leadership is, that's it. But before then, he was a fine leader. 

To me, we're talking about the same kind of personality. They're blue-collar all the way and go into a news conference like we go to the dentist. Wary and reluctant. They are not word men or media moguls or flamboyant vacation guys. They are the two QBs in the league least likely to use Instagram. They are the anti-Johnny Manziel guys and I think that gets them a lot of respect in the locker room.

Before Palmer bolted, he had tremendous sway in the room and not because of his personality. But because he was a Heisman Trophy winner, a No. 1 overall pick, a two-time Pro Bowler who was one of the most talented players at his position in the league and yet still the most accessible guy on the roster to all his mates. Those guys loved him, particularly, the offensive line, because of how he treated them.

That's leadership. While his mates stayed pretty much out of the last mess, it's no coincidence that two offensive linemen, Andrew Whitworth and Bobbie Williams, were the first guys to publicly embrace Dalton while expressing disappointment with No. 9.

And Palmer was the ultimate teammate here before '11. Look at how many times he took the blame for routes that we now know were screwed up half the time. Maybe better leadership would have been to call out his receivers, but that's not his style. And you saw what good that did Palmer in the Monday night game against New England in 2007 when Chad turned it into a national incident.

Dalton is a different case in the sense Palmer won over a veteran team. Dalton's roster grew up around him and he's got the respect of guys who are relatively his peers. They know more than anyone how hard it was for Dalton to come in at age 23, be handed the keys to such a young offense, and parlay it into three straight playoff wins without missing a start.

Are Dalton and Palmer Boomer Esiason, the greatest locker room leader I've ever been around in any sport? No. Who is? They're closer to Ken Anderson, another quiet guy that didn't like the limelight but whose skill, smarts, and toughness rallied his teammates. Although, you could never imagine Kenny Anderson abandoning his mates before a season as Palmer did.

Yeah, I wish Dalton had taken more of the blame after the playoff loss back in January. The Boston Herald's estimable columnist Ron Borges, who covered the loss against the Chargers, said Tom Brady would have put it all on his shoulders and that Dalton should take notes.

But, really, what did you want the kid to say? He said the offense played badly, including him, and he was right, wasn't he?

He's a leader who goes about his business and for the post-drama Bengals in this look-at-me-world, which gives him some skins on the wall in the locker room. He's the perfect quarterback for these 9-to-5-grind Bengals.

But Dalton seems to understand he knows there are times he'll have to step out of his skin. He'll be pushed by new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson on all fronts and already Jackson is talking about how he likes Dalton's demeanor in practice and how he's challenging his receivers and the rest of the offense. Like many phases of his game this spring, the leadership also looked to be evolving and improving.

Hey Geoff I got questions for you? For the past three years the Bengals have blown everybody mind with lockdown defense and superior offense. They have shown tremendous talent on the field with the duo of Andy Dalton and AJ Green and also with Gresham and Eifert. They have made winning records since Andy came here but there is a huge problem. So my questions are what's going on with the Bengals when it hits playoffs??? And if the Bengals don't make it back to the playoffs is this the end of Andy Dalton??? They have so much talent and such a great draft class every year and they just blow it in the playoffs. One of the reason is Dalton turnovers. The offense plays so sloppy and the defense pretty much hands the team a TD so I think this year it's make it or break it for Dalton because if he has a poor year I feel he will be benched!!  And bring in Jason Campbell or AJ McCarron. Ben Ward, Scott Depot, W. VA.

BEN: They've lost in the playoffs despite their talented roster because they didn't do the two things that really matter in the postseason. They didn't run the ball and because they didn't run the ball they let the other team run it and because the foes had the ball so much, they couldn't stop the run.

You're right, they've been sloppy on offense, so new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson sounds like he's your kind of guy. I think Jackson's panacea on cutting down the turnovers is to be a more ball possession team that runs it more, but sets up more explosive pass plays more efficiently.  Fewer passes, but more bang for the buck off play-action is what is sounds like. At least that's what he did in Oakland.

How good was this No. 3 defense after turnovers last year? They gave up only five TDs after 30 turnovers. Even if this had been a good defense, like No. 12, they would have gone 7-9. When they had 34 turnovers in 2010 they were 4-12. They had 32 in '04 and were 8-8 and 30 in '07 and were 7-9.

Dalton's fate isn't tied to where the Bengals end up. It's tied to his contract demands. If they get a deal, he'll be locked up before this season. If he's unsigned and they don't make the playoffs, well, as Boomer Esiason would say, what's the alternative? Don't say AJ McCarron. He's a developmental player they hope can be ready to be the backup in the next two or three years. And from the looks of him in practice, he needs time to build up his arm. I think he'll eventually be a good No. 2 and, who knows, maybe more, but we're talking about down the road and not an option in this discussion.

At the moment, they have no plans to bench or move on from Dalton. Could it change? I guess if he's unsigned and they get a top five pick, but I don't see either of those things happening. If Mike Brown wants a QB, he usually gets him and right now the QB he wants is Dalton.

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