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Hobson's Choice: Corner of change?

Q: What are your thoughts on drafting a DB in the first round again? Maybe moving Madieu (Williams) up to corner and drafting one of the Griffin brothers from Texas.
**--Darren, Portsmouth, OH

DARREN:** All for it. But I still think the biggest question on defense isn't so much talent, but how they use it and how much of a role Marvin Lewis plays, although he continues to insist a defensive coordinator is not like an offensive coordinator where a head coach can do both.

If Williams can make the move from free safety to cornerback and you can get the next Ed Reed at No. 18, do it. They may have some flexibility there.

The question on Williams is he going to be able to turn his hips and run as a cornerback. But if they felt he was good enough to start at cornerback in place of the injured Deltha O'Neal in his first game in the NFL in the 2004 opener, you have to feel they think he could replace O'Neal in the starting lineup over the long haul and pair him opposite blossoming rookie Johnathan Joseph.

You'd have to get a top line safety either in the draft or free agency if they switched Williams. Or would it just be easier to keep Williams and Dexter Jackson at the safeties and draft a Joseph clone at No. 18?

If you're thinking free-agent corner and the Bills' Nate Clements, think again. Word is he's looking for $20 million guaranteed and I don't care if he's an Ohio State kid and from Mike Brown's neck of the woods in Cleveland in Shaker Heights, it's hard to see this team dropping $20 mill on anybody right now. Particularly as they smart from the Sam Adams move, which wasn't a bad signing but when he hurt his knee it reminded them what a roll of the dice free agency is.

The price of corners makes you wonder if they'll try to stick it out with O'Neal and see if another six months gets him out of the doghouse by returning to '05 form. Or is he a lost cause? Whatever, they've got some options because of Williams' versatility.

If they're thinking free agency, my suggestion is take the Justin Smith-Eric Steinbach money and roll it into pursue the Ravens' Adalius Thomas or whatever athletic linebacker/defensive end-type they can find out there. And Steinbach and Smith are fine players who are the kind of guys they're looking to get more of.

All indications are they're going to dump money into their own free agents, which means they might have a chance at keeping Smith.

Lewis has to believe if his defense could have been at least middle-of-the-pack they would have gone to the playoffs in '03 and '06 as well as '05.

Even though he's one of the more celebrated defensive coordinators in NFL history, he's pretty much let his coordinators run the thing. Does that change because the bottom-tier rankings don't?

Probably not. He's got great regard for Chuck Bresnahan. Plus he thinks that coaching defense isn't like coaching offense and it can't be compared to head coaches like Brian Billick, Mike Shanahan and Mike Holgrem, who basically call the offensive plays as well as be head coach.

Q: Why do I hear people bashing Marvin Lewis? Yes, an 8-8 season is a disappointment, but how can people put most of the blame on Lewis?

Have people forgotten he took on a team that hadn't had a winning season in over a decade, a team that was the laughingstock of the NFL, and turned them into a contending club? For everyone that is blaming Marvin Lewis, I want to ask them if they can name the last Bengals coach who went four consecutive seasons without a losing record.
**--Jeromy, Union, OH

JEROMY:** Everybody knows it was Paul Brown in his last four seasons, right? 1972-75. I'm with you, but with all that comes greater expectations and that's why the bashing. And like any bashing some of it is valid and some of it is insane.

The valid criticisms are game management situations that leave you thinking, at times, they're getting out-coached, as well as the drafting of red-flagged character guys and the inability to come up with a better defense.

(I still think icing the kicker as opposed to giving Carson Palmer two timeouts instead of one in the last minute is nuts. What are the odds? Eight percent? When it worked against Baltimore's Matt Stover a month ago, that was the allotment for the decade.)

Insanity is the suggestions that Lewis isn't a leader who can take the Bengals to a Super Bowl championship and that he has no concept of character. Those things are absurd.

Some act as if his 35-30 record is firable. It might be in a couple of loony spots. Oakland. Washington. But not in Saneville.

That's not a record that gets guys fired in most of the NFL. That's a record that is not only good enough to keep an NFL job, but good enough to keep getting recycled.

Herm Edwards and Dick Jauron got new jobs this past season despite sub-.500 career records. The Jaguars' Jack Del Rio came in with Lewis in 2003 and is 34-31 and, like Lewis, lost his one playoff game. He's still around. The Dolphins were going to keep Nick Saban at 15-17.

Like Lewis, Carolina's John Fox got a big extension after his team went 11-5 last season. But his team underachieved this year at 8-8, too, and no one is saying he can't coach anymore.

Any coach that can take a franchise frozen in a glacier for 15 years and make it as viable and as competitive as Lewis has can do anything and that includes winning a Super Bowl.

This team is certainly close when you figure the top two AFC seeds are San Diego and Baltimore and they beat one and had the other beat by 21 points at the half. Obviously they're not there yet because they also lost to the AFC's four top seeds, and were blown out by No. 3 Indy and No. 4 New England. But I don't think you can say they're far away.

And his commitment to character and the city is reflected in his numerous civic endeavors and the good works of his foundation. I wrote it once and I'll write it again. Lewis has done more for this community with his right pinky finger than many of us have done with our entire lives.

That's character.

That said, sure, Lewis has to get a grip on the character thing but these decisions on whom to draft and whom to sign off the street aren't made by Lewis on an island.

Lewis is influential in all football decisions and has the biggest say in who stays and who goes. But he has also stressed it's a team deal. This thing isn't a Lewis dictatorship and it's not Bengals president Mike Brown behind the Wizard of Oz curtain, either.

So I think Lewis is wrongly taking all of the heat about the character problem by himself and the organization, meaning coaches, scouts and administrators all have to re-evaluate how the team treats the red flags. It seems to me that there has to be a coherent policy ranging from big-name free agents to top draft picks to second-day draft picks to college free agents to street free agents who are roster filler for NFL Europe assignments and have virtually no chance of making the roster, never mind getting to training camp.

Lewis is like you and I and all the people doing the bashing. He's a human being who has made some mistakes.

But he's also a hell of a football coach and Bengaldom is lucky to have him. Although it's hard for some see in the glare of the hard steel disappointment of the past two weeks.

Q: Time to play armchair GM.

First, I'm looking at the Bengals and thinking they need to shore up their D, and that means a very good middle linebacker who can drop into coverage, and is an excellent tackler.

So I'm going to be willing to part with Steinbach and if I have to Justin Smith. I'm keeping a lot of the core special teams players.

Secondly I want to help the defense by improving third downs on offense, so I'm looking for a running back that can catch and has a lot of make-you-miss, and I want to look at my scheme and get the tight ends more involved.

Finally, I'm going to deal with the character issue by getting rid of those players arrested except for Chris Henry and Ahmad Brooks, so that means see ya to O'Neal, Steinbach, Nicholson, Rucker, Thurman AND McNeal.

So what do you think? Do I have a future as an armchair GM or should I leave the heavy lifting to the smart guys?
**--Steve E., Batavia, OH

STEVE:** You're doing fine. This isn't brain surgery. The armchair isn't all that different than the swivel chair.

If you keep Brooks, though, you have to decide if he can play all three downs and cover to go along with his strength and size because if he can't then you've just blown a third-round draft pick. One of the disappointing things from this season is they didn't think he was ready enough to play. I don't think they've given up on him. He's got too much talent and flashed enough of it to warrant plenty of snaps this spring.

As for the speed back, I think you just described Chris Perry. If he's healthy, they've got him. If he's not, you're right, they seriously have to consider drafting a shifty, go-the-distance guy because it's just putting too much pressure on the outside receivers all the time to make a play and that has to give defenses an edge in pass coverage.

And don't get me wrong, I love Rudi. We all love Rudi. A tough, physical, durable class guy who should still get the bulk of the carries. But even in the best shape of his life this season he never had a run longer than 22 yards and he hasn't had a 40-yard run in 37 regular-season games.

The kid is Bettis. The Mini Bus. Tremendous in the red zone and absolute money playing with the lead. And if you could change-of-pace Rudi with a coupe (be it Perry or whatever), it would make Rudi even better.

Let's see how Perry comes back.

And speaking of Perry, let's try wide receiver Tab Perry. The tight end talk is legit, but how can you take one in the first and second round with the defensive needs? (They don't have a third-rounder because they spent it on Brooks in the supplemental draft.)

Remember that Tab (hip) missed all but two games and he was supposed to take departed tight end Matt Schobel's duties on third down. He's a pretty good answer.

I note on character you didn't make a clean sweep. Don't you have to draw the line? Or is it the better the player, the bigger the potential the more you tolerate?

But I'm just armchairing it, too.

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