Hobson's Choice: Helping the rookies

Hi Geoff,

With two rookies set to start at linbacker and the need to shore up the defense to stop the run, is there really going to be an improvement or a risk? Rookies will make mistakes, and I was wondering with us salivating for the playoffs can we afford them? or do we have the leadership and experience on the field to get us through? I'm sure they will be great, however talk is about the now and not the future.

Thanks Welland Bengal Fan WELLAND:**
I would imagine there are going to be some growing pains, particularly with David Pollack playing outside linebacker for the first time in his life. But they have clearly upgraded athletically and in speed, and it's certainly best for the long haul to go with Pollack and Odell Thurman right now. The only question is if the inexperience might cost them in that early game or two that they're going to need at the end to make the playoffs. But then you look at guys like Marvin Lewis, Chuck Bresnahan, Brian Simmons, Kim Herring, and Madieu Williams, and you've got tons of NFL success in leadership spots to survive September.

And maybe this will help early, too. In the first five games of '05, the Bengals play only one offense (the No. 4 Vikings) that finished better than 19th in last year's NFL rankings.

OK, the first name people are going to jump on is Herring. Yes, he struggled last season. But he was on a new team basically playing a new position after missing the entire previous season with a broken forearm. He's set now at the strong safety spot, where he played for Lewis' record-breaking defense in Baltimore five years ago. Herring had prepared to play free safety last season, but ended up playing the last four at strong because of the remarkable string of injuries in the secondary. One of the reasons for the poor numbers against he run is that the Bengals started six different safety combinations.

Plus, Herring brings a lot of flat-out experience to the field as a two-time Super Bowl starter, one for each conference.

Simmons, the right outside linebacker, is a perfect guy for Pollack and Thurman to play next to. He's heading into his eighth season, has lost hardly a step, and can advise Thurman as a former middle backer. Then, you've got a young veteran like Madieu Williams at free safety coming off a Rookie of the Year season if he played in New York or Pittsburgh.

The coaching of Lewis and Bresnahan is a huge element in why the Bengals should survive early with two rookie starters. The critics can rip Lewis, the defensive guru, for not having solid defenses in his first two seasons here and how only three players (Simmons, Justin Smith, Kevin Kaesviharn) were on the defense before he arrived.

But he has introduced the badly needed element of playmaking to this unit, a direct outgrowth of his recruitment of youth, speed, and athleticism. Turnovers win games in the NFL, and last year the Bengals finished third most in the league with 36. Plus, the defense scored five touchdowns off turnovers, tying the 21-year-old team record. The mentality of offense has been Lewis' biggest gift to the Bengals' defense.

We all know what Bresnahan has done in the NFL. He coordinated the Raiders' Super Bowl defense of three years ago, and has been to the playoffs with every NFL team he's been with before his stop in Cincinnati. He's got a knack for breaking down pass protections and putting his rushers in good matchups, which is going to give Pollack a veteran edge.

They aren't exactly sending Pollack and Thurman helpless out there. There should be enough there to get through the early rough spots.

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