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Hobson's Choice: Ed-ell could co-exist

Q: With the signing of Ed Hartwell, what does that mean about the future of Odell when he comes back in July? Would it be possible to move Ahmad to strong side and put Odell in the middle or vice versa, or does it mean his future with Cincy really is over?
--Doug, Marietta, OH

DOUG: Like the bumper sticker says, it's day-to-day. There is no answer on the Odell Thurman question because it's stamped "Confidential." We'll find out the day camp opens. The best guess is he comes into camp on the bottom of the depth chart at weak-side backer, but no one is writing it down in ink.

Yes, he still has a future here. Yes, they want him here. But will he be and what will he do once he gets here? Can't say, don't know, we'll see. The kid admitted in court he's an alcoholic so there are no answers. He could be in the Pro Bowl or rehab or some place in between in January, but no one knows.

Hartwell is the veteran they need at the non-Takeo rate so he's going to be here at the Will. If Thurman is what he once was, he can move into Will or go back to the middle if Ahmad Brooks isn't able to break out.

Hartwell is supposed to be a steadying influence, so he could no doubt fit into virtually any of the three spots in any role. But it's more likely they want to keep Brooks in one spot—the middle —so he can learn it. Anything you get out of Thurman is gravy.

One man's view of the potential seven backers on the final 53 would be IF Thurman is back:

Thurman, Brooks, Hartwell, Rashad Jeanty, Eric Henderson, Landon Johnson, Caleb Miller with Earl Everett to the practice squad. But that's pure guesswork.

Q: The reports from minicamp for rookies sound good. I am interested in the agents for these players who were recently drafted by the Bengals. I know this is a two-way street also involving both the club and agent. However, it does seem some agents make a little more effort in getting their clients in on time.
--Bob G., Wilder, KY

BOB: At first blush it doesn't look like there is going to be much of a problem with the top two guys because they're represented by agencies that don't have a rich track record of holdouts.

First-rounder Leon Hall's guy is Doug Hendrickson of Octagon, an agency out of the Bay Area that is one of the more high-profile firms and is headed by the bright and seasoned Mike Sullivan.

Sullivan represented the Bengals' second-rounder in 2002, safety Lamont Thompson, and held him out of the spring camps because of a dispute in which the Bengals wouldn't guarantee his $1.6 million bonus if he got injured. But Thompson signed in time for the Bengals' first practice of training camp in July, and this past rookie camp wasn't an issue with Hall.

The agent for second-rounder Kenny Irons is Fletcher Smith, who is partnered with Kennard McGuire of CSMG Sports, another active firm whose anchor client is Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Given that the collective bargaining agreement is in place and that Hall isn't a quarterback and he was the second cornerback taken, it looks to be pretty cut and dried.

Q: What happens when Chris Henry comes back and there is no roster spot there for him when he is able to play? And how does that affect the salary cap for the teams when their players don't play?
--James, Erlanger, KY

JAMES: They will probably get a roster exemption when he comes back to practice after eight weeks, but if he's going to be active they would have to cut somebody to make room. And even though he's suspended, he counts against the salary cap.

Q: I was pretty excited last year with what I heard and saw from our two rookie wideout draft picks, Bennie Brazell and Reggie McNeal. I know Bennie had an injury and Reggie had to learn a new position. Any update on how they are progressing? Bennie definitely has the speed to fill in for Henry and Reggie could add an X-factor wrinkle. Will either be factors this year?
--Dan E., Sidney, OH

DAN: Brazell has been cleared after spending all last season on injured reserve with a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his knee and should definitely be a factor. McNeal is going to be fighting for his roster life again.

You're right. Brazell comes the closest to simulating Henry's downfield speed, which shows you how fast Henry is since B-B-Bennie and his Jets are Olympic caliber. Before Brazell got hurt on his only catch of the preseason, a 25-yard touchdown against Green Bay, he was one of the unquestioned surprises because his hands are so good and he played with much more savvy than you would think for a guy who caught only 17 balls at LSU.

Next week's start of voluntary camps should be real interesting with everyone trying to see if Brazell has lost any of that world-class speed. Henry himself really struggled with the same injury last spring and summer, but remember, he hurt it in January while Brazell had an extra four months to heal.

McNeal has to be grinding for the sixth and last receiver spot with Glenn Holt, right? Chad, T.J., Tab Perry, Antonio Chatman, Brazell, right? It just doesn't seem like McNeal has been as wildly popular with the coaches as he has been the fans. They really like what Holt brings to the table special-teams wise and every move they've made at quarterback tells you they see McNeal strictly as a "package QB"/receiver.

But it's too early to sell out McNeal. This is his second year as a wideout after making the switch from quarterback, so he's got a better chance to succeed this trip around.

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