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Hobson's Choice: Defense, Roster Bubbles And Other Matters

The Bengals defense has looked good early.
The Bengals defense has looked good early.

I'm very optimistic about the season that is approaching. I believe that the defense is greatly improved and that we will win some of the games that we could have in seasons past. Who can we find to protect Joe better who's out there? Scooter Moller, Glencoe, KY

SCOOTER: At this point, no one is going to magically appear. That's going to change at the final cut on Aug. 31, but then, as Paul Brown used to ask, why did he get cut?

Let's resolve to let this thing play out over the next two games and then see where they are. The starters played a grand total of six snaps Saturday night in Tampa and the line didn't allow a sack and just two hits for the entire game.

There seems to be angst over the young guards not asserting themselves and while I get that, the coaches have an interesting decision to make between young/but talented guards and veterans like Xavier Su'a-Filo and Quinton Spain who have been through the wars. Which direction the coaches take impacts the season mightily and also casts light on play-calling intentions come the regular season. I think it's fair to say that the O-line is a focus until the wins come.

Do you think we have a better team this year and why? Robyn Stang, Fairfield Township, OH

ROBYN: Yes. And because of one word.


Say all you want about it being a nothing preseason game, but do you think last year's defense could have held the Bucs to 29 yards rushing before a season it allowed three 200-yard rush games? Do you think the 2019 defense could have held them to 159 total yards before a season it allowed three 500-yard games?

And with Burrow, it's not got going to take much. In five of Burrow's starts last season, the Bengals generated at least 27 points and lost three of them by less than a touchdown.

Yes, better. And keep an eye on the young, emerging linebackers.

I love that Trenton Irwin guy. Hard nosed player. Need more of those. What do you think of him so far? Can he make the team? Bruce Edwards Quincy, IL

BRUCE: Hard not to like the guy. Check out Dan Hoard's podcast and you'll love him even more. Sure, he's got a shot. But the competition he faces makes for a great roster fight.

Trent Taylor seems to be vying for the punt return/backup slot job, the coaches love Mike Thomas' knowledge of the system and Stanley Morgan, Jr., is a huge help on special teams. But Thomas had a red-zone fumble Saturday in a game Irwin later held on to a catch despite a hellacious and illegal hit and followed it up making a tackle on the kickoff.

So, yeah, with moments like that (stacked on some really good practices), he's got a shot. Irwin also figures to get more return opportunities, so special teams coverage and returning might decide the matter.

Bengals fan since the early 70's. So I have seen it all with this organization. But my question is, Zac Taylor is he on a short leash, especially after 1 day of a 3 day camp. And He was satisfied with all he seen. 6 wins in 2 yrs Tom Ginn, Mount Sterling, KY

TOM: Thank you for the long-time support. Here's the thing I object to about that observation. Taylor and his players ought to be congratulated for getting basically their entire team together on a voluntary basis for three offseason weeks. Not many teams did that and garnering great attendance was difficult during the spring with players hesitant about a number of issues.

When Taylor gave them two of the last three mandatory days off, they already had a ton of work in and he offered it as an incentive to get vaccinated. It's a big reason the team is now over 90 percent vaccinated. Before he did that, less than half the team was vaccinated. So I see your criticism really as a compliment. Zac did a good job this spring getting his team ready to play.

Plus, the way they came out Saturday night in Tampa is as good as they've looked in a preseason opener in quite some time. Maybe he should have given them the first day off, too.

From what I can see around here, especially from those voluntary sessions, nobody is satisfied with six wins in two years. And everybody expects more this year.

Assuming the team doesn't carry three QBs and Brandon Allen will be the primary backup for Joey B in 2021, what are the chances that we hang onto Eric Dungey for the practice squad? IMO, Dungey is a better player than Shurmur. Sean Coir, Syracuse, NY

SEAN: As an alumnus of The 'Cuse who covered quarterbacks Buffalo Bill Hurley and Dave "Pop" Warner for The Daily Orange and appreciates Dungey's work under The Dome, I feel obligated to answer. But I think you have to make that argument to the coaches.

The Bengals aren't known for making big contracts. What are the chances we come to agreements with Jessie Bates? Justin Babcock, Schenectady, NY

JUSTIN: Not sure the basis for your premise. Ever since the Bengals made Boomer Esiason the richest player in the NFL – and then did the same thing with Carson Palmer nearly 20 years later – the Bengals have spent above league average on players. And, remember, they made Willie Anderson the richest offensive lineman ever at the turn of the century.

As for the recent past, just last year they gave running back Joe Mixon a $48 million extension. Only five backs have a bigger deal, according to When they extended wide receiver A.J. Green on a five-year, $70 million package two days before the 2015 opener, it was reported he got more money upfront with more money sooner at a higher annual average than Julio Jones, Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas.

So, on the contrary, they give very big deals. Big enough that they got criticized for giving them to Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap in 2018.

They'll do a big deal. That's not the question here. I would imagine there are a couple of questions. Do safeties warrant mega contracts? Or are those reserved for cornerbacks? Historically, safeties haven't received the dollars that cornerback and pass rushers get.

The other question that lingers is, with large contracts on Hendrickson, Awuzie, Hubbard, Waynes, Reader, Bell, how much more money can you spend on defense knowing that you are a year away from looking at a big contract for Burrow?

Bates, quite clearly, brings a lot of value. Not only was he Pro Football Focus' top-rated safety last year, but he's a valued locker-room leader who made the spring workouts possible. They'd like to extend him, but if a deal doesn't happen the Bengals can tag him next year and keep him through 2022. Burrow is eligible for a new deal after that season.

With Burrow at full strength, how is the mental game going to affect his ability to play? We saw what happened to Palmer with his knee, will Burrow be the same way? Denise Hale, Ashland, KY

DENISE: I thought Palmer came back both physically and mentally better than anyone could have hoped. The season after his knee surgery, he had this team in the playoffs before a blown PAT snap in one game and a missed field goal at the gun in another knocked them out. He led them to a 3-0 start and was named the Pro Bowl MVP 13 months after surgery. In 2009 he personally led them to the AFC North title with five game winning drives. Just last week NBC NFL guru Peter King referred to Palmer as a "borderline" Hall of Fame candidate.

So when you say, "We saw what happened to Palmer with his knee," what I saw was positive. The same with Tom Brady, who overcame an ACL and had a pretty good season last year a dozen seasons later.

And when it comes to Burrow, I've got no doubts about his mindset. I've been around the guy a limited amount because of the COVID protocols that have marked his year-and-a-half with the Bengals, but how can you not be deeply impressed with that aspect of his game?

What I'll remember about this training camp years from now (if you ever remember a training camp) is not the defense's blanket or Joe Mixon's Fab Five. But Burrow's riveting 15-minute news conference back on Aug. 7 in which he openly discussed the concerns he had about his knee and the lack of comfort he had in the pocket. The heart he wore on his sleeve desperately sought his "old self."

To even broach the subject so publicly and candidly shows you a stunning strength of intestinal fortitude. And then to watch him go out and basically throw darts since, well, where can I sign up for a Burrow Pro Bowl jersey?

I was at the game Saturday. First impression was WOW The Bucs are ALOT bigger the Bengals, then to hear RB C. EVANS comment he was awe struck by the size of Jason Pierre-Paul. Playing in the physical AFC NORTH I would think SIZE MATTERS, Are we too small? Ralph Goyettd New Port Richey, FL

RALPH: Not sure about all that. Just looking at the flip chart from the starting defensive lines in Saturday's game:

Bucs: Pierre-Paul 6-5, 275; Suh 6-4, 313; Vea 6-4, 347; Gholston 6-6 281.

Bengals: Hubbard 6-5, 265; Tupou 6-3, 345; Reader 6-3, 325; Hendrickson 6-4 270.

Not a huge difference. And it's a different style of defense, too, with the Bengals dropping their ends like outside linebackers. The Bucs list Shaq Barrett as an outside backer, but he's just 6-2, 250. Great player, but size isn't the issue. Scheme is a lot of it. The measurements are just footnotes.

And what about the Bengals' Big Man Draft of 2021? Second-rounder Carman Jackson goes 6-5, 322 at right guard and fourth-rounder D'Ante Smith 6-5, 305 at left guard. Plus, fourth-rounder defensive Tyler Shelvin is 6-2 and at least 350.

Big. AFC North big.

I'm a Bengals fan living in Los Angeles and I'm not able to see any pre season games or practiced. My question is what's your opinion about the development of the offensive line and how will are they coming. Our Joe's need it. Christopher Jennings, Lawndale, CA

CHRISTOPHER: The line is progressing and I think that's the key word: Progress. The big thing to me is how they've bought into what new offensive line coach Frank Pollack is selling and I think you could see that in the preseason opener. Sure, not perfect. But they didn't give up a sack and they allowed just two hits on the quarterback.


They're clearly better at tackle with 10-year vet Riley Reiff on the right and a new and improved Jonah Williams on the left. Their best tandem, my opinion, since Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith in 2015. All signs point to the steady center Trey Hopkins being ready for the opener. And while the young guards are still learning, rookie D'Ante Smith looks to be an emerging big-time player.

They're not there yet, but Pollack has them headed in the right direction and things should settle down next week as they set a lineup.

With a lack of quality depth on the O-line, & struggles from rookies & vets, do you foresee a possibility to trade for an offensive guard? Who on our roster might we trade & for who? Second, does coach Marion Hobby like stunts & twists? Thoughts? Adrian Magana, Minneapolis, MN

ADRIAN: Which vets are struggling? Not the tackles and Su'a-Filo and Spain were fine Saturday at guard and D'Ante Smith has been terrific for a rookie learning guard. Pollack is rotating the young guards, which makes things choppy at times, but there looks to be depth, especially with left tackle Isaiah Prince having a good training camp and with right tackle Fred Johnson returning this week. Today's NFL sees O-Line shortages everywhere, and that reflects a pass happy league. Did you see the Steelers O-Line last year? I may be a broken record at times, but a balanced offense protects the quarterback more than anything. And another quick aside. Tampa Bay threw the ball less often than all four of their post-season opponents last year while winning a Super Bowl.

I think if you look at the five guys that Pollack eventually ends up starting, they'll be good enough to protect Burrow with a balanced game plan and play calling. If it is 50 passes a game, Munoz and the best Bengals offensive lines of all time couldn't protect Burrow.

As for new defensive line coach Marion Hobby liking stunts, I'm sure he does if his players can do it. He's got different players than he did in Miami so he'll tailor it to them and these are the games he's finding out what they can do. From what I saw Saturday night, they had four sacks and a couple came off stunts. Will it be a steady diet? To be determined.

I don't see anybody they would trade right now. When they overhauled the team in the last year (trading Carlos Dunlap, cutting Geno Atkins and Giovani Bernard, moving on from A.J. Green), these are the guys they opted to put in the lineup.

Now, let's see what happens come September. In terms of trades, the scouts are always scouring preseason tape and are happy to have it after no preseason games last year. Maybe the Bengals have extra depth at running back or wideout and swap that player for another spot. Or it could work the other way and the Bengals see a guy they like and go after him. A little early for that too, but keep an eye on spots where they have been hit. Like the edge, where Joseph Ossai, Khalid Kareem and Wyatt Hubert are nursing injuries.