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Hobson's Choice: Chemistry Bubbles; Defense Checks Boxes 

Jessie Bates (right) and Vonn Bell are two of the leaders that got their guys to show,
Jessie Bates (right) and Vonn Bell are two of the leaders that got their guys to show,

Hey, Geoff. You've been doing a great job of covering the team for years. As an out of town fan, can you describe the energy in the city and locker room? Any year that you would compare it to? Thank you. Paul Nojaim, Miami Beach, FL

PAUL: Thanks very much for the kind words. Much appreciated.

The energy has been terrific on-and-off the field and you could see that in April's uniform unveil and in May's perfect attendance.

The seven players involved in the introductory video (the two Joes, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins on offense and Jessie Bates III, Sam Hubbard, D.J. Reader on defense) basically form head coach Zac Taylor's new leadership council and represent how the locker room's evolution from the Green-Dalton-Dunlap-Atkins era is complete.

During that two-hour shoot for the uniform video, you sensed that the players felt that, too, which was helped along by some great props and stagecraft. They kind of fed off each other, realizing that the new unis are a stamp of the new era and the karma has continued into this month's very voluntary OTAs.

While some teams and players are sitting out spring ball or heavily dialing it down, the Bengals had full attendance for their first practice last week. And that is saying something about Taylor and his team when any excuse would do for not showing up.

Right, you don't win games in May and June and, sure, it probably won't hurt Cleveland at all with NFL Players Association president J.C. Tretter, the Browns center, advising his club to go mostly virtual. That's fine.

Cleveland is coming off its first postseason run since seemingly Frank Ryan handed off to Jim Brown (the Bengals went to the playoffs seven times during the Cleveland drought) and their quarterback is heading into his fourth season with the same receivers.

Not so in Cincy, where the aforementioned sophomore quarterback has never had a normal NFL offseason and where his defense is lining up six different starters from last Opening Day.

Credit Joe Burrow and Bates and Hubbard and the other leaders like Vonn Bell for realizing what they have to do to get better. Credit Taylor for working with them to get it done. That full attendance can't be overplayed. They didn't win the Super Bowl when Taylor called up Burrow to end that first practice. But it is a huge chemistry win.

It reminds me of when the locker room leaders of another era, Andrew Whitworth on offense and Domata Peko on defense, led the spring workouts of 2011 during the lockout when they couldn't speak to coaches. Never mind being at the stadium. You can't tell me that didn't have some kind of impact on a team that ended up going to the postseason with a rookie quarterback.

The city and the fan base also seem to be riding the wave of the new unis, Burrow's encouraging rehab, a second straight whirlwind free agency on defense and a draft of seven offensive and defensive linemen. The social media numbers continue to put the Bengals in the top five of NFL engagement.

Love this piece keep up the good work Jeff. Question: All you kept saying in the off-season is defense, defense, defense. Well now that free agency and the draft are over, how do you think they did? Troy Chapman, Prospect, OH

TROY: Thank you for reading and great to hear from the hometown of former big-league umpire Larry Barnett. Never agreed with him on his no-call in Game Three of the 1975 World Series when Reds bunter Ed Armbrister mauled Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk in the tenth inning. But I had the pleasure of writing a story on Barnett 10 years later and what a great guy who has done so much for patients in V.A. hospitals around the country.

Love what they did on defense. They signed four starters and exactly where they needed them: A 13.5-sacker on the edge, a three technique with the second-most sacks of any defensive tackle in his draft, one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league and a solid, young outside cornerback with 42 NFL starts.

Now look what they have on the first snap of Opening Day, assuming the Vikings come out in three wides. Of their 11 defensive starters, 10 were drafted in the first three rounds. There's clearly more talent there.

Yeah, it would have been nice to sign a veteran edge guy behind Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. I think the plan was to sign two of them, but when that position's price tag blew up, they made a nice recovery. It's hard to rip them for compensating Hendrickson's 13.5 sacks with the richest free-agent deal in club history and then getting two solid cornerbacks for the price of William Jackson III's deal in Washington.

And, yeah, we took a lot of heat for talking defense, but helping Burrow was exactly what we had in mind.

One defensive stand in Philly on the last series of regulation gives him a win instead of an overtime tie. Just one defensive play in either game against Cleveland may have given them a sweep of the Browns. At the very least, one sack of Baker Mayfield or one pass defensed in the Browns' final drive of the game at Paul Brown Stadium preserves his Bengals rookie-record 406 yards and first fourth-quarter comeback. One interception in Indianapolis would have given him the win instead of Philip Rivers' 28th and next-to-last fourth quarter comeback.

You don't have to just sign an $80 million guard to help him.

Geoff, Maybe a question to ask Joe? Is Joe Burrow planning on wearing some type on knee brace once the season starts? And, how does he feel wearing it? Jim Erhart, Cincinnati, OH

JIM: My colleagues asked him in last Tuesday's Media Zoom. He's wearing one now and while it sounds like he's not a big fan, he knows it's now part of the wardrobe.

I love your posts and have followed "Hobson's Choice " for a long time. What is the status of the signing of the last 2 draft choices? Thanks for your time and response. Gary Bell Middletown, OH

GARY: Thank you for the kind words and for taking the time to write in. Since the draft picks are pretty much slotted, there's not a whole lot to it. It's not a matter of if they'll sign before training camp, but when they'll sign. My guess is Ja'Marr Chase and Jackson Carman are in the fold before the mandatory minicamp breaks June 17.

Hi Geoff,

Ring of Honor: Very good candidates though a bit "offensive"? The center of the field is like Rodney Dangerfield: no respect. Where is Bill Bergey, their best MLB, and Bob Johnson (C), the second Bengal ever drafted? Lynn S. Marshall, Cincinnati, OH

LYNN: The Bengals are a franchise founded by an offensive genius and they've always made quarterbacks and skill players a centerpiece. No surprise there. You mention two worthy candidates and no doubt they'll get on the ballot at some point. Johnson's number 54 is the only number officially retired by the Bengals, so there is plenty of respect. There's also a lot of regard for Bergey and while he may have been the best at that spot, he also only played 68 games here. He'll get his shot, but hard to put him ahead of guys that played for so well and so long. Thanks for the question. A big part of the Ring of Honor is to not only debate, but more importantly, recognize the history

Is there a possibility of Tyler Eifert coming back to the Bengals? CJ Uzomah may not 100% (I hope he is, but...) Also, there are multiple O-Linemen still available we can sign and cut M. Jordan, K. Sutherland, F. Johnson, Price. RIP the bandaid! Kiva Dior Sr., Cincinnati, OH

KIVA: Eifert was a great player in his day, but can't see him coming back here at soon-to-be-32 with that injury history. And while there hasn't been a percentage put on tight end C.J. Uzomah after he missed all but seven quarters to an Achilles injury last year, he looked excellent last week and is practicing full go.

The term multiple linemen available can be debated so close to training camp. I'm not sure you and offensive line coach Frank Pollack are on the same page. He certainly doesn't regard Billy Price as "a band aid." He's a good NFL center who worked well with Frank in a rookie season that was plagued by injury. Fred Johnson has done nothing to get cut and looks to be the third tackle. As for moves at guard, let's see how they do with a new coach and new scheme before doing anything rash. They don't need to sign anybody else to put on heat. There's already a real traffic jam at guard.

What is biggest probability Bengals sign free agent offensive linemen, defensive linemen or re-sign Geno Atkins? Gary Koch. Kankakee, IL

GARY: Given they drafted seven offensive and defensive linemen and signed a veteran starting tackle on both sides of the ball, they're not looking to add to either line. Re-signing Geno Atkins remains an option and they continue to keep in touch. Part of a return hinges on health, as it would for any 33-year-old on the market.

They keep saying the Bengals aren't done signing free agents but who is still out there that's any good, all the good players are gone. Tom Young, Pendleton, IN

TOM: I'm not sure who they is, but you're right. There are apparently more of them out there than guys that the Bengals think would be worthy at this point. Like I say, I don't see them adding a lineman. I guess if they think there's a worthy cornerback, that might be something to watch since they apparently thought they'd get one in the draft.

The LB room appears to be rather small. What is your take on this and will the future waiver wire be an answer? Jeff Grindrod, Newark, OH

JEFF: Yes sir, it is small and with good reason. The most they use at a time is usually just two. Very rarely do you see three guys out there. So, I don't think they're looking for answers. Upgrades, yes, as you saw them recently claim former Michigan State linebacker Joe Bachie, a guy that's knocked around the league the past three seasons. Bachie was undrafted in 2019, when Bengals had solid grades on him. But, generally, they like what they have there.

Hey Geoff, huge Bengals fan here in Packers Country and always enjoy your columns. Trying to plan summer trips and wondering what you know about fans allowed to attend training camp and if players will be allowed to sign autographs? Thx Brad Barnes, Hales Corners, WI

BRAD: Thank you for the kind words and for taking the time to read. Unfortunately it appears there is going to be no interaction between players and fans during training camp. The Bengals are hopeful to have fans, but for how many days and what it looks like remains to be seen.