Q: Now that it is past the halfway point of the season, the Bengals need to start figuring out who they are going to let leave via free-agency. The defense seems to be the strength of this team; they already have all the replacements lined up as far as I can tell. But it goes without saying that they have some question marks on the offensive side of the ball. They need to figure out the O-line, namely who is going to replace Stacy Andrews? They also need to know if one of the rookie wide receivers can replace T.J. They need to know if Benson is the answer at RB. I guess what I am asking is if you think Marvin is going to let some of the young guys play to see what they can do. I wouldn't even be opposed to sitting Fitz (since he also might leave) to see if we have a legitimate backup QB for next year in Jordan Palmer or Rowe. Lastly, any idea how Willie Anderson is doing in Baltimore?
--Vincent D., Northern Ontario
VINCENT: The biggest question to me on offense is center, where Eric Ghiaciuc's deal is up and where there has been a lot of scrutiny. Marvin is reluctant to hand jobs to guys simply because of youth, but we've begun to see young guys that are healthy starting to get time.
Rookie Pat Sims has emerged at defensive tackle with four solid outings and rookie tackle Anthony Collins has been getting a few snaps as an extra tight end. But don't expect much from rookie wide receivers Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell. First of all, because they've been shelved since Oct. 19 with injuries and second because they're not going to sit Chad, T.J. and Chris Henry. Simpson and Chad can pretty much only play the X spot and Caldwell has basically missed two months of practice.
Now, they could always approach Chad about shutting it down for the season and having the shoulder surgery early, but he's probably not going to go for that and you can't forget one thing here. They are still trying to win games. Football isn't like baseball with a Sept. 1 callup, and they'd love to put a run together if, for the very least, get out of the top five of the draft. Letting the rest of the division know you're still breathing would also be nice.
I don't think the coaches would go for sitting Fitzpatrick. It is Jordan Palmer's first year in the NFL and Rowe had been away for six weeks before he came back to the practice squad. It's a nice idea on paper for maybe the last two or three games, but the coaches would no doubt balk because of preparation, and Fitzpatrick is still trying to prove he's good enough to re-sign.
But the big thing here is the offensive line. They've got to get center figured out. Ghiaciuc is a nice athlete who has done well the last two weeks against 4-3 defenses. But it is a 3-4 division with man-eating nose tackles and a lot of people don't think it's a fit because Ghiaciuc isn't an anchor. All I know is that their yards per carry has gone from 4.2 with Rich Braham at center in 2005 to 3.7 in 2006 when he suffered a career-ending knee injury in the second game to 3.7 again in '07 to 3.7 right now.
And they also haven't run the ball without Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson after he got hurt late in the 2006 season. They fretted about Anderson's age and health, put all their eggs in Stacy Andrews with the franchise tag, and it's fair to say anyone playing on a line where the QB has been sacked 19 times in nine games and running the ball for less than four yards per pop has not had a year worth $7.5 million. Can you see the Bengals paying him $6 to 7M per year in a long-term deal after this season? Someone will, but it's hard to see these guys doing it after drafting Collins and extending Whitworth.
So maybe they put Collins at right tackle. Maybe they move Andrew Whitworth from left guard to right tackle and put Collins in his spot as they groom him to play left tackle. But Whitworth, lefty all the way, has never played the right side, so maybe they just put Collins there. Or maybe they go get a veteran left guard. I'm not ready to jettison Levi Jones at left tackle. He's too young at 29 and they don't grow on trees.
As for Willie Anderson, he has been playing a lot for a guy who was supposed to be all done physically. Now, he did play only in spots until he started at right tackle in Week 6 for the Ravens back on Oct. 12, and he did hurt his leg last week and didn't play in the second half. But he looks to be OK and the one thing they have done with him there is the one thing they haven't been able to do here.
Run the ball.
They are third in NFL rushing, which is the key to rookie quarterback Joe Flacco's success. No surprise that Anderson stepped into the shoes of the retired Jonathan Ogden and has been a leader and mentor for the youngest offensive line in the NFL. I'm not a doctor.And maybe he won't hold up. But all I know is he gave the Bengals a tough mindset that almost willed them to run the ball and they need to regain it.
Q: I know it's early, and I shouldn't be thinking like this, but let's assume the Bengals will receive a top five pick (more than likely). What position do you see them taking with that pick? I hope like others they are seeing a future with Benson, which would take them out of running back. But with Stacy Andrews obviously leaving after this year, and uncertainty around Levi Jones, can you see them taking a left tackle? I want a defensive end, I'm thinking of that hulk of an end from Texas (can't remember his name).
--Chuck W., Florence, KY
CHUCK: Let's think top 10 with an 8-8 finish. Same thing, though. In the name of Ki-Jana Carter and Chris Johnson, they can't take a back that high if they can get a pass rusher or defensive tackle that can change games. If they can't get either, I'd seriously think about taking the best wide receiver because you have to replenish Carson's weapons and the kids behind Chad and T.J. are question marks.
Maybe you could talk me into a cornerback because you can never have enough. But you should because you've already taken two first-rounders in the last three drafts.
Offensive tackle? With Whitworth extended and Collins taken in the fourth round last year, why? Like I say, it's too early to jettison Levi, but you could put Whit at left tackle and Collins at right and go get a veteran left guard. But veteran left tackles like Levi shouldn't be underestimated in a tough year.
They need a game-changer on defense rushing the passer or stopping the run. It's too early for any kind of a board with no juniors. Mel Kiper Jr.'s top senior is currently Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo, but he's also projected as a third-rounder on some boards, and there are no senior defensive tackle prospects rated that highly.
Q: What is wrong with the NFL? They fine guys for playing hard football, they flag guys for clean hits and now they allow assault on defenseless players with little or no penalty. Roger Goodell is ruining the league.
--David, Erlanger, KY
DAVID: Goodell is not ruining the league, but he needs a nuts-and-bolts guy that can lead him through the vision thing. Roger is solid, smart, reliable. He has a good long-range view of big topics, but he needs some people around him with common sense. If Barack Obama has David Axelrod and Rahm Emmanuel, then Goodell needs some guys that can tell the difference between a player about to lose his eyeballs and a player who has lost his mind.
The odd thing is that the league is doing a great job of protecting players. Yeah, they are erring on the side of caution but it's better than butcher ball and Goodell should be commended for that. Which is why this fine is so bizarre because Whitworth's safety was severely threatened.
Q: I am a senior at UNCW which means nothing to anyone in Ohio. I moved to North Carolina when I was much younger. I have been a diehard Cincinnati Bengals and Reds fan all my life. My question is that why do the Bengals and Palmer keep messing with the minds of the fan base? We have waited four weeks for an answer on Carson Palmer's status. All the Bengals fan base wants is a definitive answer and we still haven't gotten one. Palmer said he needs to make a decision soon. I assume the majority of the Bengals community would like to know if he is going to sit the rest of the season or not. I don't think that is too much to ask for but it obviously is. When are we going to get the answer we have waited so long for?
--Eric H., Wilmington, N.C.
ERIC: You don't have a definitive answer because there isn't one.
He doesn't know if he's going to have surgery. He's been told to rest it and see. If there is any chance he can play this year, he wants to play. Granted, it would be foolish if he came back now and nobody thinks he will. But you tell him that.
We all wish we had an answer yesterday. But you can't take this one personally. We don't have an answer because there isn't one. It usually is all about the fans. It should be. But this time it's not about anybody but Carson and his career. He certainly has earned the time to make his best decision possible, right?