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Hobson's Choice: Bengals Vision Lasered To 2020

Michael Jordan finding consistency with 11 straight starts.
Michael Jordan finding consistency with 11 straight starts.

Quick question Geoff my man, Quinton Spain is a free agent, do you agree that we need to pick up players such as this, a stellar pass protection guard in order to avoid Joe becoming damaged goods? If we fix this line we can be good...Mark Burgess Edinburgh, OH

MARK: I like the thought, and I know that their personnel guys are always churning. Take a look at the additions on the defensive line since only the second week of August with Christian Covington, Mike Daniels, Margus Hunt, Amani Bledsoe, and Kahlil McKenzie.

As for Spain I think that the club takes a look, but remember that the key ingredient, something the Bengals have not had last year or this year on the offensive line, is line-up consistency. Last year saw heavy turnover because of injury, and this year the Bengals have already started three right guards in six games. They need consistency. Plus, the coaches feel good about the young guards already on the roster, and they think the current tandem of Michael Jordan and Alex Redmond is powerful and physical. They caught a glimpse of the future last week at Lucas Oil Stadium when the offensive line pushed around the NFL's No. 1 defense early in the game. They've also got young talent in Hakeem Adeniji and Fred Johnson, players that can play inside and outside.

So the timeless O-line question always seems to be whether to let the current players settle in or whether to keep churning the talent mix. Let's see how this plays out, but remember that the Bills cut the 29-year-old Spain a few months after signing him to a $15 million extension when they ended up benching him. But you're always looking, right?

I appreciate all the insight you have given us over the years. With the trade line looming any thoughts on Bengals cleaning house and stock piling picks? Geno ,Carlos, AJ,or Ross ? Movie Pittman, Cincinnati, OH

Hey Hobs, Nice articles but more Choice, please. Why not trade AJ and Ross. Great 2020 draft, doesn't make up for blunders of the past 6 years. We can' climb in AFC Central when #1's and 2"s don't start or are gone. More misses than hits. Lou Petrofes, Jupiter, FL

MOVIE AND LOU: Thank you for the kind words and I know that trade talk is on people's minds. Given the injuries to the defensive line (Hubbard, Geno, Reader, Daniels, Wren, Tupou in an opt-out) it would be difficult to trade defensive linemen and go even thinner. It seems that there is something of a fit issue with Carlos Dunlap, but the Bengals have been spoiled over the years with so many steady starters like Carlos, Geno, Robert Geathers, Domata Peko, Michael Johnson, Wallace Gilberry, etc. That was a core reason for so many playoff runs, but the truth is that good defensive linemen aren't on every corner of the waiver wire and replacing Carlos and Geno would be tough. Rookie end Khalid Kareem is progressing well and looks to have a bright future, but he is going through learning curves in his rookie year.

With respect to Green, he seems to be turning the corner based on last week and I think you need to keep Green here, at the very least, for the rest of this season so he can help break Joe Burrow into the league. Great veteran presence and you want to make sure Burrow is surrounded by weapons and not struggling for targets. But I get the question with respect to Green and Ross, both scheduled to be free agents next year. Why not trade for something now? I think the main reason is that the team's focus is on getting on a roll now, versus playing for next year. And you need weapons to do that.

But given Burrow's rookie contract, I don't think the Bengals are in the compensatory pick game as much as they have been. They may not go into free agency as heavily as they did this year, but they certainly sent a signal they're going to make sure they are going to invest in surrounding Burrow with talent. And they spent so much in free agency this past season I would think it's going to be difficult to get on the right side of the compensatory formula.

I don't agree with you, Lou, on the draft stuff. OK, they swung and missed in 2014 and 2015 and that certainly set them back. But high picks like Joe Mixon, Jessie Bates, Will Jackson, Jonah Williams, Tyler Boyd, Germaine Pratt, Drew Sample, Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins, Logan Wilson all look to be quality starters. So the numbers may actually support them since a solid draft is considered one that yields three regulars and/or starters.

I think the bigger factor in that stretch from '16-19 has been a ridiculous string of major injuries. Losing Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Vontaze Burfict, Giovani Bernard as well as four straight years of No. 1 picks dogged by rookie year injuries has been tough. Don't you think that the defense would better right now with a healthy D.J. Reader, Trae Waynes and Geno Atkins? Sometimes you get the injury bug, and it hurts when Pro Bowl players are knocked out.

In terms of draft classes, the first two picks in 2016 produced their best cover cornerback in William Jackson III and one of the top slot wide receivers in the league in Tyler Boyd, as well as three guys that played a lot of ball for them before moving on in free agency: third-round linebacker Nick Vigil, fourth-round nose tackle Andrew Billings and seventh-round special teams captain Clayton Fejedelem. Not a blunder draft.

OK, in 2017, first-round pick John Ross is still trying to find his footing. But second-round running back Joe Mixon is one of the league's top players, fourth-round pick Carl Lawson is a starter and highly-regarded pass rusher (just see when they try to pay him), fifth-round linebacker Jordan Evans has been exactly what a fifth-rounder should be as a consistent backup and sixth-round safety Brandon Wilson is a Pro Bowl caliber special teams player. And fourth-round defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow was a good player until he got hurt. Solid draft. The struggles of Ross keep it from being top shelf.

Same with 2018. First-round center Billy Price (like Ross his career was dictated by an injured start) has yet to play out. But second-round safety Jessie Bates III and third-round defensive end Sam Hubbard are top of the line players and seventh-round wide receiver Auden Tate has been a nice contributor. Hell, he saved the day last year when Green and Ross went down. Fifth-round cornerback Darius Phillips has been up and down, but that's a good get in the fifth. Again, solid draft with the still developing story line of the first rounder the only thing preventing it from being blue chip.

And the last two drafts? Grade A all the way. You get nine starters in back-to-back drafts (Burrow, Jonah Williams, Tee Higgins, Drew Sample, Germaine Pratt, Michael Jordan, Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither and Hakeem Adeniji) and it can damn near make your decade.

I get it. They've had some misses. But while they were struggling with re-stocking the O-line, they were also going through three line coaches in three years. There are bigger factors than pointing to the draft.

Don't you think it's time for the brown family to start thinking that most of the problem are the coaches, I have been a fan since 1968 when I lived 18 miles up route 50, in hooven ohio, Taylor's and DC play calling horrible Russ Reatherford, Yuma, AZ

RUSS: How do you judge the Bengals coaches?

No other team went into the offseason planning to start a rookie quarterback, meaning they had to basically re-cast their entire offense to fit quarterback Joe Burrow. And never before in recent Bengals history had they re-vamped the defense so vastly in the offseason that they had seven different starters on Opening Day.

That drastic overhaul would have been tough enough in the good old days before the pandemic, when the coaches would have had these guys in their hands on April 20. Instead, they got them on July 25 and they still couldn't get on the field or have normal meetings.

All the other 31 teams are going through it. Yes. I get it. But nobody re-made themselves like the Bengals on both sides of the ball. Hell, it's hard enough to predict the draft, never mind a pandemic. In a year they committed $200 million to start the Burrow Era, it turned out you couldn't put a price on normalcy.

You can blame these guys all you want. I just don't know how fair it is. Let's see how the rest of the season looks.

Well I've believed in all the players we've had on the team we have a great roster in my eyes. I feel like our coaches are holding us back if we're not playing our best players then why are we holding on to them. Theirs always an excuse. James Butler, Cincinnati, OH

JAMES: It seems to me like they're finding out who their best players are as the season goes. You certainly can't find out in practices or scrimmages. A lot of times you find out in the pre-season games, but they got wiped away this year. It also seems to me everyone is playing, but some are in different roles, a process that usually happens a lot earlier than now. You can call it excuses. But I call it reality. It's not a typical year.

Hey Hobs. Does Duke Tobin have a life long appointment or will he be realistically evaluated for the product he has put on the field the last 5 years. I give him credit for building some good rosters throughout the years. Not 2020 Ryan Kenney, Amelia, OH

RYAN: No different than your job or my job. Everyone is evaluated every day. In my case, it is every word, every story. In director of player personnel Duke Tobin's case, it's every move, every draft. He's got a contract.

You said it. Tobin has built some excellent clubs here. He's got a solid rep around the league and while there's been a dip in recent years, you've seen what I said. There have been some misses in the draft, but I don't think lack of talent is the reason they've not been winning the AFC North. The major factors in my mind have been those stunning injuries to key players starting with Andy Dalton's broken thumb on Dec. 13, 2015 and the turbulence from constant changes since then in scheme and coaching staff. Since that day not even five years ago, the Bengals have had four offensive coordinators and four defensive coordinators.

This roster that Tobin, Taylor and Bengals president Mike Brown put on the field for 2020 wasn't built with just 2020 in mind. It was also built for 2021, 2022 and 2023. I think the Bengals and Tobin responded the only way they could following last season when they overhauled it with the draft and free agency. Never before had the Bengals changed so much on the field during an offseason. I think Tobin ought to get some credit for that. How much, I guess, depends on how long the future takes to get here. 

Hello Geoff, my dad and I always read your stuff. My question is do you think Burrow is going to make it through the season with all the hits he is taking? Thanks, Aiden, Beckley, WVA

AIDEN: Thank you to and your dad. Much appreciated.  

The worry is, it only takes one hit. I don't doubt he'll last the season. Joe Burrow is one tough hombre. The concern is not only getting him through the season, but what is the cumulative impact of getting hit often and does it impact his pocket presence that is such a strength of his? 

Taking shots is part of every rookie QB's education, but you can't take too many. But I do see things on the rise for several reasons.

First, the more he plays, the more he knows when to get out of there, avoid the big shot and the fewer hits he takes. The guy is a hell of an athlete and a first-rate scrambler. Second, the kid wants to make big plays all the time, but sometimes you have to take the dump down to get the ball off. More of those will mean fewer hits and I think you're starting to see that.

Plus, I think the Bengals have realized more and more as the season goes on that they have to reduce his risk. More running plays, more play-action. Even if Cleveland lets him throw it underneath, I don't think you'll see Burrow throw it 61 times this Sunday. Even with no Joe Mixon. They realize they're not just protecting him, but the future. Between him learning the ropes and them protecting him, Burrow should be OK.