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Hobson's Choice: Cyber celebration never ends

Q: Bengals Virtual HOF is a great idea. I wish they would recognize their players inside the stadium instead of a picture in the walkways. I love to read the newspaper sports page and worry about its future, but sportswriters shouldn't be voting for the Hall of Fame. They don't know any other way of judging players except on those that have won a Super Bowl. What if the Bengals drafted (Steven) Jackson and (Darnell) Dockett back in 2004? Did they pass on Dockett for (Caleb) Miller? Couldn't help but notice some players in the game that fans wanted the Bengals to draft (Dockett, G. Watson and Cromartie).
--Andy, Cincinnati, OH

ANDY: Thanks for the HOF endorsement. Site czar Andy Ware and I wanted to come up with a spot that recognizes great Bengals 24-7 no matter the season or venue. What better place than cyberspace?

As one of those ink-stained wretches that used to have a vote in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I have to disagree with you. The process is flawed not because of who votes for it, but how and how many.

The current board of selectors has 44 members, one media representative from each market in the NFL with two from New York. A 33rd member is a representative of the Pro Football Writers of America and there are 11 at-large voters.

And from ESPN's Lenny Pasquarelli to John Clayton, to Sports Illustrated's Peter King to the Boston Herald's Ron Borges, they are eminently qualified to make this decision. They live and breathe this stuff 24-7 and have been doing it longer than the current players have been alive. They care, they are committed and they do their homework.

But from presidents to punters, I don't think you can pick anything worthy in a back room.

The new inductees are voted on each Saturday before the Super Bowl, where the board meets in a hotel conference room. There are three major problems:

The panel is too small. The number 44 is fine for presidents of the republic, but not to elect a Hall of Fame.

The candidates are too many. By rule, at least four members have to be elected every year.

And each finalist's presentation to the board is done by the representative from that player's market, followed by debate.

That process alone just opens it up to politics.

While most of the voters are qualified, it still narrows and constricts what should be a broad view of a landscape that roams generations. More people are covering the game than ever before. Plus, the fact that at least four players have to make it every year no matter what automatically means there are going to be guys that don't belong.

Make it like the Baseball Hall of Fame. No meetings. No debate. Just a straight vote via the mail and if no one gets 75 percent that year, then get somebody like the Ohio governor to ride in the annual Canton parade.

Would that help the plight of former Bengals who have had as good, if not better, careers than some Hall members? What could be worse? By opening up the voting there should also be an opening of minds. The current Hall of Famers can offer perspective and by opening up the ballot, you should get a better balance of generations.

Every team must have at least one Ken Anderson or Kenny Riley.

As for the 2004 draft, it will be recalled that Dockett, the Cardinals defensive tackle who had a great Super Bowl Sunday, had many a red flag next to his name. He should be commended for rising above a terrible youth. At 13 he discovered his mother's body after she had been shot in the head execution style, and he spent his teen-age years shop-lifting and stealing cars. In '04 the pros didn't know which way he would go, which is why a first-round talent went in the third.

OK, so the next question has to be, what was the difference between Dockett and Odell Thurman and Chris Henry, character risks the Bengals picked the next year in the second and third rounds?

Good question.

At the risk of getting ripped for being a house man, I do not offer excuses, only an educated guess for what they may have been thinking.

The '04 draft came a week after cornerback Dennis Weathersby suffered a career-ending injury in a car wreck. So the Bengals used their first second-round pick that year on a corner (Keiwan Ratliff) and then went for the safety they also needed later in the round in Madieu Williams.

Apparently every other team also didn't think Dockett was worthy of a first- or second-rounder because he didn't go until early in the third with the 64th pick.

So Dockett was off the board when the Bengals picked linebacker Caleb Miller at No. 80.

Watson, the defensive tackle from Michigan, was a fourth-rounder in 2006 and lost his starting job this year after he got hurt. It is the same round and year the Bengals picked defensive tackle Domata Peko and I think most would tell you Peko is the better player.

As for rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, no question the guy is a hell of a player. But not the ninth pick in the draft (he was the second corner chosen and went No. 16), and the Bengals weren't looking to take a cornerback in the first round for a third straight year.

As for taking Chris Perry instead of Steven Jackson in the first round of the 2004 draft, it is the easiest second guess this side of Al Gore not appearing with Bill Clinton in their home states the weekend before the 2000 election.

All of which is ample reason not to take Beanie Wells or any other running back with a pulse in the first round ever again.

Q: What I can't seem to understand is all the talk about drafting an offensive tackle. The Bengals need some playmakers, not to mention that they have three already and if they re-sign Stacey Andrews that would give them four tackles. Do you think there is a possibility that they would draft No. 58 Rey Maualuga?
--William H., Cincinnati

WILLIAM: Who are you counting? Andrews and Levi Jones are bigger question marks than the stimulus package, and Anthony Collins has played all of six games. They better be serious about taking a tackle.

That said, they can't panic and reach for one. Yes, drafting Maualuga is a possibility, but only if they get tackle straightened out and/or they decide that the tackles available aren't as good as Maualuga or maybe Wake Forest defensive end Aaron Curry.

Everyone wants to cut Levi Jones, but the Bengals would have to take about a $5 million hit in this year's salary cap. Still, it seems an unlikely marriage given how he has been at odds with them for years over his health.

Left guard Andrew Whitworth is convinced he can play left tackle but I don't know if the Bengals are. And that still doesn't solve right tackle. Marvin Lewis said they won't begin to know about Andrews' return from reconstructive knee surgery until June (he would miss at least the first six games on the PUP list), two months after the draft. And, plus, he's unsigned.

Yeah, I think there are plenty of reasons to take a tackle. But, you also have to believe Collins can play right tackle. If that's the case, if it were me, I'd put Whit at LT and draft your No. 58.

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