Hobson's Choice: Duke of Earl a gem?

Q: How does an OLB at 6-3, 238 pounds with a 4.73 40 who led the national champion Gators in tackles two years in a row go undrafted? This guy should have been a fourth rounder. What's the catch? *
*
--Brad, Atlanta, GA

BRAD:** Join the club. What's not to like? The fact that Earl Everett is here also shows you the enormous respect for head coach Marvin Lewis from agents and players.

You'd have to say right now that from a character and talent standpoint, Everett, the former Florida linebacker, is this year's Eric Henderson and the best get and the best chance to make the team in college free agency.

There may have been two things working against him. He didn't run very fast at the scouting combine, and that 4.88 40 combined with recent arthroscopic surgery on his ankle may have scared off some people.

But Hadley Engelhard, his Atlanta-based agent, says the procedure was strictly a cleanout and while he won't be able to work at this weekend's camp he should be ready in two weeks.

Everett had plenty of post-draft suitors, but Engelhard said it was a no-brainer to sign with Cincinnati once Lewis got on the horn. It also helped, no doubt, that they didn't draft a linebacker.

"Marvin is such a character guy and he's got such a knowledge of defense, and he told us Earl is a guy they really liked," Engelhard said. "And you'll love the kid. No one works harder."

Indeed, Everett arrives with impeccable credentials as a weight room rat and locker-room leader, proven as one of the linchpins of a national champion.

Some had Everett going as early as the third round, and certainly not many had him going past the fifth. At least the reasoning for Henderson going undrafted was his several injuries, but there is no such knock on Everett.

Any way, not the Bengals' problem. Both guys are going to get good shots on a team looking for defense.


Q: Keyshawn Johnson and the Bengals look like a match made in heaven. Am I wrong?
**--Steve, Alexandria, VA

STEVE:** It's a good thought, but this isn't heaven. It's not even Iowa.

Actually, Keyshawn would probably be a good get from a locker-room standpoint. He has rubbed people the wrong way everywhere he's been, yet he plays hard, is a hellacious blocker, and approaches his job like a pro. He's a Marvin kind of guy.

Yet he won't solve the Chris Henry problem. He's not going to stretch the field and that's what you need at this point from that third receiver. No, Tab Perry's not a burner, either, but Keyshawn turns 35 in July and has caught just three balls of at least 40 yards in the last six seasons.

Maybe I'm nuts, but it doesn't seem to be a fit.


Q: I think that the major problem on defense in 2006 and probably in 2007 is the lack of a pass rush. Sure other teams made big plays against the secondary, but that was after the quarterback had about 40 seconds to find a receiver. I don't know how many sacks they had last year, but I'll bet that you could count them on one hand. Remember, defense wins championships. As Faust, Marino, Manning and Palmer have shown, if you can't stop the other team, it doesn't matter how many points you score because the other team is going to score one more than that. Manning wasn't able to win a Super Bowl until Dwight Freeney joined the club. Why aren't they trading, drafting, signing, etc. a pass rushing specialist?
**--Paul S., Cincinnati, OH

PAUL:** They have. They put more than $13 million into their pass rushers in this season's salary cap. Your point is well taken, though. The Bengals have a better secondary than the Colts, but what separates Indy are their two pass-rushing ends. What makes Robert Mathis is playing opposite Freeney, and vice versa.

Still, it's not like the Bengals have ignored the need. They locked up their first double-digit sacker in double-digit seasons when they gave Robert Geathers a long-term deal with an estimated $5 million cap hit this season. You can gripe about that, but try to re-sign him next year as an unrestricted free agent if he gets 11.5 sacks again after his agent got $20 million guaranteed for Saints end Charles Grant.

And they franchise-tagged Justin Smith, committing to him $8.6 million this year for his 41.5 career sacks. You can argue the merits of tying up your cap this year like that for a solid player who has never been to a Pro Bowl. But if you're tying to rebuild your defense, why start by taking away Smith, your most consistent and durable performer? They could have let Smith go and signed linebacker Adalius Thomas, the best pass-rusher on the market. They didn't, but they kept their own pass rusher instead.

It looks like they're banking on kids like Frostee Rucker, Jonathan Fanene and Eric Henderson to give them some pressure from the edge at defensive end and that's not exactly reassuring considering there are seven NFL games and no sacks among them.

If they could have gotten a pass rusher in the draft, they would have. But Florida defensive end Jarvis Moss had character smudges (Denver traded a spot ahead of the Bengals, anyway, to get him at No. 17) and the Steelers plucked Lamarr Woodley just before the Bengals in the second round.

Then they made a good call and didn't reach for one after missing out on Woodley. If you can't get a pass rusher in the first day, it most likely isn't going to happen and you can't make one up. Of the NFL's top five sackers last year, only Green Bay's Aaron Kampman (fifth round in 2002) is a second-day pick. NFL leader Shawne Merriman and Baltimore's Trevor Pryce are first-rounders. Buffalo's Aaron Schobel and Miami's Jason Taylor went in the second and third, respectively.

You are dead on about the pass rush. But it's also tough to say they've ignored it by ponying up the bread that they have on their nickel ends.

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