Q: Are the Bengals settled on Eric Ghiaciuc as the starting center? He did a good job filling in last year but I don't know if he is the solid rock you look for in the middle. I know Ben Wilkerson and Alex Stepanovich were both very good at big-time colleges, but neither has done much in the pros. The center might be one of the most important parts of the line and offense. Do you think the Bengals are good enough at that position?
--Jared A., Bowling Green, OH
JARED: They must be better there this year because the decline on third down is a correlation to Braham's absence, and the thing Ghiaciuc has going for him is his athleticism.
This is no knock on Ghiaciuc's brains because you can't replace Richie's 146 NFL games with 20. Braham's ability to pick up all the flotsam and jetsam on third down played such a huge part in that great pass protection season of 2005, when they clicked on 43 percent of third downs compared to 36 percent last year.
They must think Ghiaciuc can do the job because they didn't go get anybody to replace him and they could have had the best center on the board in USC's Ryan Kalil when they picked Auburn running back Kenny Irons in the second round.
You figure Ghiaciuc will get smarter. The big question, his strength, may not be so much of an issue now with left guard Eric Steinbach about to replaced by Andrew Whitworth or Stacy Andrews, a pair of 350-pound alternatives.
Given that he'll improve you'd have to conclude, yes, they're good enough there. That doesn't mean Ghiaciuc is Braham, but Braham wasn't Braham yet now, either, after 20 games.
Q: I understand that Henry did indeed pass his drug test. I am not a big Henry fan, but I do realize that the guy has raw talent that we could use in the future if he gets his act together. My question is: If these guys wrongly accused him of failing his drug test, wouldn't this be grounds for him to sue these people? Everybody is out to get the Bengals or so it seems. All Bengals are on thin ice in the media's eyes. Maybe it is time the Bengals take back.
--Robbie P., Moores Hill, IN
ROBBIE: With his representatives not commenting when asked about legal action, the stage seems to be set for Henry filing a civil suit. Would it also warrant an investigation, too, by the Kentucky Attorney General's Office to find out how a Kenton County attorney could get it so differently than the state?
That said, Henry made his own bed and he has to sleep in the thorns and thickets of innuendos and media scrutiny.
Nobody is out to get the Bengals. No one wants to give these guys a daily parade on Fountain Square more than this city.
It's the wayward players that have caused such a disservice to their teammates because now everyone is painting with the broad brush. No one is out to get them, but no one is looking the other way, either, and that's on the players and the team, and nobody else.
Now, when it crosses the line of fairness, as with what happened to Henry this week, that's wrong, too, and it makes you wonder about motives.
Some more Henry:
Lonnie Wheeler, The Cincinnati Post's estimable sports columnist, churned out a good read today that takes on the notion that NFL players can only be cut for talent reasons and not because of conduct.
Citing passages of the collective bargaining agreement, Wheeler argues a player can get cut if a team decides his conduct isn't tolerable.
Which means, it's all very fuzzy.
After linebacker A.J. Nicholson got cut Monday within hours of his not guilty plea on a domestic violence charge, I wrote that it's believed Nicholson wasn't good enough to make the club and was promptly lit up by the good folks at profootballtalk.com, who are much more versed in legal matters than most because Mike is a lawyer.
"If the decision to release Nicholson was a result of the arrest, the Bengals will be exposed to a potential non-injury grievance," PFT said. "Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the union, individual teams are not permitted to dump a player as discipline for any on-field or off-field action. The team's official web site acknowledges this point, and then attempts in half-hearted fashion to argue that the decision was based on talent."
Gee, I thought I went all out, but, anyway, Mike makes the point that the CBA doesn't allow it.
And this from Jason Cole of Yahoo.com at the owners' meetings this week in Nashville:
"Nicholson's agent is expected to file a grievance stating that he was not cut for performance-related issues, which is what's allowed under the collective bargaining agreement. Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said Tuesday that the league and the NFL Players Association should look into loosening the restrictions as to why a player can be cut. "
So it's fair to say we're dealing in some grainy area that commissioner Roger Goodell is helping to clear up. Indeed, at a Nashville news conference this week, Goodell seemed to indicate that players can be lopped for conduct reasons.
Somebody put it in English and then put it in the CBA.