Hobson's Choice: DBs stake claim

Q: Lost in this losing is the play of Ndukwe. I think he's playing at a Pro Bowl level. He's fun to watch. Lynch seems to be improving also. Overall, I'm excited about their DBs, probably the best overall batch they've had re: potential. Your thoughts?
--Gary K., Kankakee, IL

GARY: Pro Bowl is a bit of a stretch. But agreed that the George Orwell secondary (everybody born around 1984) is as talented and physical as it has been in a long time. The eye-opener has been Leon Hall.

With fellow starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph on the shelf, Hall played big-time games against Plaxico Burress and Terrell Owens. Yeah, he let Owens get inside of him too easily on the 57-yard crossing route for a TD last Sunday, but the fault lay pretty much with the safety taking the wrong angle as stand-up guy Marvin White has attested.

When Burress and Owens combine for five catches, that's some pretty good play. I think they'd like to get the same kind of physicality, durability and consistency from Joseph. Joseph has great closing speed and superb coverage skills and has Pro Bowl tools.

But he's been nicked up and it has hurt his consistency. His inability to seal off the perimeter on Felix Jones' 33-yard TD run Sunday can't happen. Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer have been preaching since Day 1 about everybody coming up to make tackles and they need more from him. You've got to conclude, though, that when Joseph gets healthy and gets into a groove, he and Hall are a top tandem.

I agree with you on Ndukwe being a real comer and so does Alex Marvez of Foxsports.com. He picked Ndukwe as his Bengals rep on a list of each team's emerging young player.

But both Ndukwe and White are adjusting to the mental part of the game. You've got to remember, this is really only their sixth NFL game together and that's obvious from the stats. They've made some nice plays but Ndukwe whiffed on the killing long run late in the half against Tennessee and White got T.O'ed.

But they're learning. Ndukwe has got to be more consistent in the running game to take the next step, but he's smart, fast, big and not afraid to hit. The guy can be a defensive leader for the next eight to 10 years. A seventh-round pick who is the defensive answer to T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Like Joseph, they'd like to get more out of White with consistency. Particularly in coverage. There is no question about his intensity, his desire to make shoulder pads pop, and his fearlessness against the run. His decision-making in the Xs and Os is something they hope to see advance the more he plays.

Lynch has had a limited role from scrimmage, but doesn't it look like he could potentially be an Ethan Kilmer- Kevin Kaesviharn-Madieu Williams kind of guy? Not saying he's as explosive or as athletic as Williams, but his brains and versatility suit him as a special-teamer that you'd like to see learn how to play cornerback as well as safety. But let's see him get some snaps.

Consider there is a combined 98 NFL games from Ndukwe, White, Joseph, Hall and Lynch, and the QB they're playing this weekend has made 257 straight starts. Don't put them in Hawaii yet. But it's a fast, tough group that is going fun to watch and grow.


Q: I have to say that I'm dismayed at all the talk in the media (including TJ) that T.J. Houshmandzadeh will be let go at the end of the season. The sense is that we are in rebuilding mode, T.J. is too old, and we will be able to rely on the young guys at some point. ... I say sign the guy ASAP.
--Tom, Cincinnati, OH

TOM: I'm a T.J. guy, so you're preaching to the choir on that one. He and Shayne Graham are co MVPs this year, right? But we don't have to pay him. The other side of the argument is do you give a franchise deal to a receiver who turns 32 in the first year of the contract?

Back in February, they had a number in mind and so did T.J. and that's why it's October and nothing is done. Can you say gap? But there are conflicting signs.

The fact they've had no discussions in months would indicate they aren't going to re-sign him. But they're turning down trade requests and the rookies that would replace him, Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell, arent getting a sniff in games and both were inactive last week. That would suggest maybe he'll be around.

Some wonder about T.J.'s speed and ability to separate. But they've been wondering that since before he got drafted eight seasons ago. Yeah, I think missing the spring camps and training camp set him back a bit and showed he's not 25 anymore.

But I also think he's been the most reliable and clutch player on offense since he broke into the lineup in 2004 and he and Carson have been their life blood on offense.

Is it a no-brainer-slam-dunk-what-are-you-waiting-for?

Nah. It's a tougher call than it looks because of factors such as age, the big money already paid to the QB and the other wide receiver, as well as an unknown economic picture in the NFL and the nation.

That said, it's hard to see this offense without him.

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