Hobson's Choice: Bengaldom can't wait to camp out

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A.J. Green has never played in a home opener in his six NFL seasons.

Hey Geoff, thanks again for thecontinuous* pdates! Ready for camp to start! Any more contracts you think can be completed before the end of camp? Is the team prioritizing Kirkpatrick or Zeitler? Zeitler has always been consistent but Kirkpatrick came on toward the end of last year...thoughts? Chris Smith, Denver, CO*

CHRIS:  Thanks for the note. I think we're all ready to get started. As you know, the Bengals extended both fifth-year options to starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and starting right guard Kevin Zeitler, their first-round picks in 2012.

The Bengals have a history of paying big money to their own cornerbacks (Leon Hall and Adam Jones), but not guards (Eric Steinbach and Nate Livings), so we'll see if this follows the script. They'd also like to get an extension for fullback Ryan Hewitt.

Hello Geoff, my question is about the schedule this season. We open the year away (for the 7th straight year) @ the Jets on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. We then play at the Steelers without Burfict. After that, we play the defending Superbowl champions, again without Burfict. We get Tom Brady's home opener week 6. To top it all off, one of our home games is in another country.

My questions are: 1. Do you think we have a home opener next season? 2. Can we overcome this brutal first half schedule? Cliff Riley, Florence, KY

CLIFF: If they didn't get a home opener this year, they never will. In years past they've opened on the road because of a conflict with the Reds but there was no such problem this year.

Plus, they are coming off absorbing nationally-televised games late in the season against Denver and Pittsburgh and they've got a bunch of returning Pro Bowlers, not to mention the AFC passing champion. You would figure they deserved it and are one of the league's most attractive teams. The fact that A.J. Green and Andy Dalton have never had a home opener is ludicrous.

You've hit it right on the head. That's the key question. Like American diplomats John Adams and Benjamin Franklin during the revolution, they've got to come out of London at least even. They've got to get to 4-4 after the Oct. 30 game in London against old friend Jay Gruden.

And don't forget that they're not sure when they'll get back Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert (ankle) after he rehabs in the preseason. So, yeah, September is extremely tough with the Jets and Steelers back-to-back on the road before opening the home schedule against the Super Bowl champion Broncos on Sept. 25 followed by one of those quick turnaround Thursday nighters at PBS against the Dolphins that you never know how they're going to go.

Do they have a 6-2 finish in them? It's plausible with only two play-off teams from last year over the final eight games in a home game against Pittsburgh and a Christmas Eve game in Houston. Trips to the Giants and Browns find them playing teams with new coaching staffs and they've won their last two games in Baltimore. Home games against Buffalo, Philly, and Baltimore are against teams with a combined 20-28 record last season.

And, November has been the best overall month for Marvin Lewis teams at 31-21-1 while Andy Dalton is .606 in both November and December at 20-13.

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Call one of the NFL's new rules the "Giovani Bernard Interpretation."

Hey Geoff, looking back to the WILD card game vs Pittsburgh a lot of the media has demonized Burfict and Jones blaming them for our meltdown. Not to defend them for their actions but it's very unfortunate we ran into the Steelers solely because of the intense rivalry because we were the better team. Before the season even started the officiating in the league had obvious issues and it brewed up disaster for our deep playoff run.

And looking back at the game, there was obvious missed calls that killed momentum for us (Shaziers hit on Bernard, Williams penalty on Wheaton) which I want to blame for the hit that Burfict inflicted on brown if it was even intentional, and we all know the story...So what has the league done to prevent this? If everything was called correctly for both sides it easily could have been us taking the win and Munchak and the Steelers antics being the headlines instead of relentless Bengal bashing everyone has focused on. Do you see any rule changes dealing with challenges or clearer definition of what's legal? It seems the rulebook needs simplified, and player safety has gone a bit too far because the players know the risk involved. Brit Rothwell, Seaman, OH

BRIT: I don't think you can ever say player safety has gone too far. That has to be everyone's top priority. Just because it's a dangerous profession and the players know it doesn't mean you still shouldn't do what you can to make it as safe as possible.

But as for the other issue of simplifying the rules, I think everyone agrees with you there. The Wild Card Game certainly wasn't a proud moment in NFL officiating. They've told us that themselves by admitting they blew two calls, one of which resulted in Pittsburgh's only touchdown on wide receiver Martavis Bryant's alleged catch between his legs. The other, allowing Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter on the field, probably cost them the game on the last play.

And, it took them two months to admit they also screwed up the Giovani Bernard-Ryan Shazier hit. Well, they never came out and said it, although one member of the NFL competition committee not Marvin Lewis said it should have been called when it happened.

But the league did re-interpret its crown-of-the-helmet hits in an effort to make things safer. If Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier gave that shot to Bernard in the flat today after he caught a pass for a concussion, there would have been no fumble at the Steelers 25 on third-and-nine late in the third quarter and there would have been a 15-yard penalty that would have put the Bengals close to a first-and-goal while trailing, 15-0, in a game they eventually took a 16-15 lead.

The NFL said Shazier wasn't called for a foul because he didn't "line up," Bernard head on. But from now on, no matter what the angle is outside the tackle box, a defensive player can't use the crown of his helmet.

"If there were angles involved, it wasn't a foul," said NFL director of officiating Dean Blandino back in March at the league meetings. "We looked at that hit and it's not a technique we want in the game. We're changing the interpretation of the rule. For the defensive player, it's not about angles. It's about lowering the head and using the crown of the helmet. Outside the tackle box, that hit will become a foul. Forceful contact, (use of) clear crown regardless of whether there are angles involved."

So hopefully that helps clarify things. As for the Bryant non-TD catch, maybe Blandino cleared it up the other day. (By the way, the only guy that can talk sensibly about what is a catch and what is not a catch is profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio. But even he can lapse into mind-numbing legalese when trying to explain it to the rabble like you and I.

Florio reported that Blandino told his officials in a meeting last week, "When it's bang-bang, rule it incomplete . . . When in doubt, make it incomplete."

Florio then observed, the "advice to err on the side of calling a pass incomplete flows from his confidence that the ruling can be fixed via replay review, if there's indisputable visual evidence that the player actually had the ball long enough.

"[I]f we look at it on replay and it did appear the receiver had it long enough, then we change it and move on," Blandino said. "Don't change how you're officiating these plays. Bang-bang is incomplete, and the time element allows us to be consistent on these bang-bang plays."

So maybe that helps. But then, of course, they looked at the Bryant play two, three, four times, or however long it took them, and they still got it wrong.

As for Porter, Florio believes the NFL took care of that with a clarification in this year's set of rules: "Regardless of what the league or anyone else calls it, the Joey Porter Rule shows up in the 2016 rule book as new language aimed at keeping Porter and all other assistant coaches off the field," and Florio points to the line "The Head Coach may enter the field to check on the welfare of a player who is injured, but no assistant coach may enter the field."

But they still have to call this stuff even though it looks great on paper. To me the most under-reported story of the year is Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak grabbing Bengals safety Reggie Nelson's hair after a play on the sidelines. Yeah, the Steelers got hit with 15 yards, but come to find out a few weeks later Munchak told a reporter his $10,000 fine was rescinded. How can that be? How can they demand discipline and then let a coach get away with that?

You're right of course. Winners write history. You don't see any books written by Al Gore about the 2000 election.

If Jeremy Hill holds on to the ball, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is ripped for blowing a 15-point lead and he's the coach getting ripped for lack of discipline on the sidelines. And Munchak is buried for losing it. Grabbing a player's hair?

The last play never would have happened, but while you can criticize Burfict for risking a penalty you have to admit the narrative of the play was overblown. My opinion (and I think many at PBS share it) is it wasn't a malicious hit worthy of the media rage. In fact, Shazier's hit on Bernard and Steelers safety Mike Mitchell's hit on Eifert a month before both caused on concussions on hits that were more vicious than Tez's hit that gave Antonio Brown a concussion.

And, sure, Jones should have walked away from Porter and not gone after him for the 15-yard penalty.  Easy for us to say in the safety of the stands. But at that point in the game, the last snap of an emotional and taut elimination game between two heated rivals, no player should have ever been put in the position of seeing an opposing coach in his huddle. What did they expect? It should have been off-setting penalties. But, at the very least, the flag on Jones should have been picked up. You don't make that call in a game like that on the last play.

But the Steelers won and the Bengals lost. And there were more hanging Chads at PBS that night than in Gore's Florida and that's why Pittsburgh got to write the story.

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Cedric Ogbuehi impressed last year as a rookie playing mainly as an extra tackle late in the season.

Like most fans, I'm pumped about the upcoming season. Do you have any updates as to how the O Line is shaping up under the veteran leadership of players like Whitworth and Boling? Jeff Christmas, New Carlisle, IN

JEFF: The big move, of course, is 2015 first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi replacing Andre Smith at right tackle. Ogbuehi missed the spring with a muscle problem, but it's believed he'll be there for the first practice of training camp.

Smith held down the spot ever since he overcame injuries in his second season in 2010 and ended up being a part of six post-season runs as a solid player. But the Bengals are extremely excited about Ogbuehi. Certainly in the Marvin Lewis Era they've never had a young tackle this athletic and quick who would have been worthy of a top five pick if healthy.

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  Rookie free agent wide receiver Alex Erickson out of Wisconsin had a nice spring.

Hobs, Loved seeing us sign Calgary WR Simonise to fill the #90 spot on the training camp squad. I have been tracking that situation and lobbying the web sites and twitter sites for us to go after him. I am hoping our final 53 include: 6'4 Green, 6'5 Simonise, 6'5 Kumerow, 6'4 Core, 6'2 Lafell & 6'1 Boyd as the slots. I also hope we keep a 7th WR {6'4 Olonzo or Erickson) this year. If not, keep at least 2 of those WRs on the practice squad. I do however realize, that at least 2 or 3 of those undrafted rookies must step up as a PR/KR and on special teams to beat out Tate, Wright and Mario Alford. Also, I am pretty sure 6'5 Eifert and 6'7 Kroft are locks at TE. I hope the 6'8 John Peters makes it too, but imagine he will get bumped by the 6'4 Uzomah. Your thoughts on if we might keep 7 WRs on the 53, and what are the chances that Peters makes the 53 by either beating out Uzomah or keeping an extra TE? I am assuming we usually will only keep at most 3 Tight Ends Thanks. WFSTOTT USN {Retired 21 yrs)

BILL:  Thank you for your service. The CFL player has yet to sign and won't until he passes his physical when he reports next week and he has to be considered a longshot to make it since he missed the spring workouts. But, yes, an interesting get.

They'll keep six wide receivers and pending how the preseason goes, maybe two on the practice squad. After Green, LaFell, Boyd and Core, it is anyone's guess for the final two spots on the 53. The best guess is that sophomore Mario Alford and veteran Brandon Tate are vying for one spot to back up punt returner Adam Jones and be on the active roster every Sunday. And it's not certain if James Wright (knee) is going to be ready to work at all right away.

Peters' best hope is to make the practice squad. Uzomah, who had a terrific spring, figures to make it behind Eifert and Tyler Kroft at tight end. They'll keep three tight ends with fullback Ryan Hewitt also able to play there.     

Would the Bengals be interested in Andrew Hawkins if he is cut by Cleveland; after they drafted 5 wr? Chris Speyrer, Mason City, IL

CHRIS: I would think Hawkins would be on the Bengals' radar. He broke in here as a rookie in 2011 and stayed for three years before he went to Cleveland, so he knows the system cold. One of the questions would be if they think he can play more than the slot. But unlike Alford, he would have plenty of experience in there. One thing working against him is he doesn't return but, yeah, you'd have to think the well-liked Hawk would be of interest for a receiving corps that lacks experience.

Hobbs, Can U tell the Jungle, on what day will the 90 players entering training camp be assigned a Jersey number and when& where will those Jersey numbers be biblically available l? Also, if they make the final 53, do they usually get to keep that number? WFSTOTT Pensacola FL

BILL: The list is finalized when the roster is handed out for the first practice a week from Friday and very rarely do they switch the number if they make the final 53. The number you see is usually what you get.

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New offensive coordinator Ken Zampese brings stability, the key element in building any NFL team.

Hey Geoff, can't wait until summer is over, we need some football! So we lost Hue Jackson, which wasn't a surprise, but we had previously lost Gruden, which wasn't a surprise either. All this within five years. My question is, when you lose coordinators can it be better so opponents can't figure you out? Ben Mccollum, Hamilton, OH

BEN: That's an interesting take, but I think the Bengals believe stability in a system is better than constant change. The nice thing about new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese is he worked with both Jackson and Gruden and is the only NFL quarterbacks coach Andy Dalton has had. So stability with the playbook along with his experience are the major reasons Zampese was promoted and they didn't go outside to a new system.

I mean, just look at the club that Hue inherited in Cleveland. The lack of continuity in all aspects has hampered the Browns since they got back in the league in 1999. The fact that Jackson is their ninth different head coach and is bringing in the 13th different offensive coordinator in the 18th season of the restoration is all you need to know.

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