Hobson's Choice: Don't count out Washington

Hi Butch, I'm a big fan of what Marvin is doing and of how you report on the team. Your site is one of the best!

I'm really excited about the offense this year with the return of Warrick and the addition of rookies Henry and Perry. I have the sense that the Bengals are assembling an incredibly potent group of playmakers. But what about Kelley Washington? It seems like this should be his time, but instead he appears to be getting lost in the crowd. In your opinion, what is it that is holding him back? How would you rank him compared to the rest of the receivers in terms of what you consider the key skills to succeed in this offense.

Also, I have a question about players who might be able to help a team but don't get a chance because they are deemed damaged goods or too old. Robert Edwards was Comeback Player of the Year and I once read an article out of Miami that he was considered so strong that there was little drop off when he would go in for Ricky Williams, and yet no one will give him a chance. What's the deal? And are there other players that you think have been unfairly labelled who should be playing?

** Thanks, - Dev

DEV:**
Thanks for the kind words and taking the time to write them.

It should be Washington's time and this is his do-or-die training camp. But as he goes into his third season, don't bury him just yet. After his first two seasons, he's averaging a yard more than T.J. Houshmandzadeh (53 catches for 12.8 compared to 62 for 11.6) did in his first two seasons, and caught more touchdowns (seven to six) than Chad Johnson did in his first two seasons.

But, as head coach Marvin Lewis said before the May and June camps, T.J. went by him last year and now Washington can prove "us" (the coaches) wrong. It's a good question and hard to answer. Like a lot of things in the NFL, it's murky and difficult to pin down.

The reason they took Washington in the third round in 2003 is because of his terrific combination of size and speed, and he's got all that. He's a real talent. Certainly one of the top two or three on the club when it comes to skills but he hasn't put them all together on the field for a long stretch. I don't think we've seen the speed consistently. He doesn't seem to get a whole lot of separation, but he is a big guy who has come up with some big, physical catches and has run away from people at times, but not all the time.

It could also be that his on-field passion (the first down sign, the Squirrel Touchdown Dance) hasn't won him some friends in high places and he makes it harder on himself with those guys when he doesn't come up with the big catch.

The two best route runners on the team are probably Chad and T.J., with rookie Chris Henry coming on fast. It makes those guys that much faster in and out of their cuts, but the bottom line is around here it has been hard to put a finger on why Washington comes into this season fighting for a job.

That's the one thing we do know. With Henry and sixth-rounder Tab Perry virtual locks, and wide receiver Peter Warrick back in the mix in training camp, the battle among Washington, Warrick, last year's special teams aces Kevin Walter and Cliff Russell as well as NFL vets Jamal Broussard, Freddie Milons, and Matt Cherry, and last year's college free agent Jeremiah Cockheran, the battle for roster spots five and six is absolutely hellacious.

Unfair labels are rampant in this league. I don't know about Robert Edwards, but look at Bengals cornerback Deltha O'Neal. He was supposed to be a malcontent and a bad player, and he's been neither, Not even close.

Maybe free-agent linebacker Peter Boulware is getting a bad injury rap as we speak, simply because Cleveland and Seattle, where he has extremely close ties, have yet to sign him. It could be for other reasons (money, timing) but, let's face it, until he goes on the field for a team to workout, he probably won't get signed.

Fair or unfair? In this day and age of the salary cap, you have to be extremely cautious with guys coming off injuries, particularly older players. The Bengals have been accused of being too careful at times, but how careful can you be when you're talking about tying up your cap for guys who maybe can't play for very long, if at all?

I think that's one of the biggest changes over the last five or six years. Players really have to fight the injury rap hard.

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