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Hobson's Choice: Hue fine-tuned WRs

Q: In your opinion, is Hue Jackson's departure good, negligible, or bad? It's not like he's the Messiah of WR coaches, but he has done a good job getting the most out of guys like TJ and Kevin Walter when he was still a Bengal (suprised nobody mentions him now as a key free agent-loss, but hindsight is 20/20).

On the other hand, the receivers, as a group, disappeared at some real key moments. Thoughts?
**--Evan, Pittsburgh, Pa.

EVAN:** Maybe not a messiah, but to his players he was a godsend and that should mean something. Any time you lose a coach who was able to get a volatile group to consistently produce, you've lost something you hope you can replace.

And just as an aside to someone calling themselves James they say is writing from Rancho Cucamonga, CA, "Hobson, why didn't you ask Chad, who just professed his love for Hue Jackson, why he decided to choke him at halftime during the playoffs last year? Quit being so soft and nothing but a 'yes-man' around there. ... "

It was supposed to be a headlock, not a choke hold but I'm far from an expert since the only thing I wrestle with is English. We've asked and asked and written about it and chronicled it for, literally now, a year and a day so we haven't buried it here. Both guys have been pretty adamant and consistent about denying any strangulation attempts, although no one has denied there was an incident.

What can't be denied is that Johnson played hard and well under Jackson and had his best seasons with him, and Jackson basically dug up T.J. from the dead, appeared to toughen up Chris Henry and got some big plays out of Kelley Washington.

And I don't think you can deny that Jackson had a nice touch in dealing with some, shall we say, challenging personalities.

(Is Oprah available?)

You can say Johnson struggled at key times in big games, but I think at least one receiver always showed up. T.J. was solid (they didn't throw it him in Indy) and I thought Henry shelved his tentativeness against Baltimore and San Diego and played big in the last two games at Denver and against Pittsburgh. One was a 124-yard game, and the other could have been 120 if his 75-yard TD catch didn't get called back. So I think they showed.

No, I just don't think you can dispute the numbers with Jackson coaching. Three Pro Bowls, two 1,000-yard seasons in the same year and a guy catching 15 TDs in his first two seasons. You have to also give a lot of credit to the guy calling the plays, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, but clearly somebody had to be doing some coaching at wideout as well.

I also think Jackson was good for the coaching mix. Any time a new, assertive guy comes in from outside to add some perspective and new blood it's a positive and hopefully they can do it again.

No, not a messiah, but that doesn't mean you don't light a candle for him because he did produce.

It's hard to say Walter was a key free-agent loss when he was basically a core special-teamer and the Bengals this past season finished first in the NFL in punt coverage, sixth in kick coverage, and are believed to be among the league leaders with four special teams fumble recoveries.

Walter had 19 catches for a TD in '05. This season, Washington, Tab Perry and Glenn Holt combined for 15 catches and a TD.

Q: If Marvin is such a defensive guru, why is it taking so long for our defense to get it together?
**--Dusty, Dayton, OH

DUSTY:** Have you got time to scotch tape together one of those 500-piece jigsaw puzzles? Injuries, the Odell Thurman pick, underachieving play from unexpected sources, and Lewis' transition from defensive guru to head coach.

Take away the top two picks in the 2005 draft with what looks to be linebacker David Pollack's career-ending neck injury and Thurman's NFL suspension and that would set back any defense.

Who knows if Thurman will be back? The way Lewis talks, it sounds like not but it's early and that could always change. Then you can get into the debate if they should have picked him anyway given his checkered past at No. 48. For instance, how would history have turned out if they took the late cornerback Darrent Williams, a guy they liked taken eight slots later by Denver?

But clearly not having Thurman last year was a major defensive setback.

Plus, free safety Madieu Williams' shoulder surgery that wiped out his second season and free agent defensive tackle Sam Adams' knee injury in this preseason provided incalculable damage.

And who knew starting cornerbacks Tory James and Deltha O'Neal would have such brutal years at the same time? James was just a year removed from a Pro Bowl and O'Neal was coming off a Pro Bowl. And yet they played like street free agents at such a key position.

Lewis has been man enough to say the defense doesn't have an identity and it's his fault. I think part of it is he's feeling his way around what role he should take and what should the defense look like.

An example is in '03 when he knew he wanted a solid, professional player in Kevin Hardy, yet he had him play middle linebacker for the first time in his career and that wasn't the greatest of fits.

Lewis wants his coordinators to have the same freedom he did, but he also wants to have input. Maybe he can't have it both ways.

One thing is for sure. Lewis is soul searching for answers. The most memorable thing that came out of last week's news conference besides the "hardass" stuff is how committed he is to fixing the defense.

Q: I was looking over the list of free agents and had a couple of questions. First, Caleb Miller and Landon Johnson are both a tad bit light to be playing LB in the NFL. (Personally, I thought Miller did the best job at MLB for the team). Do either of them have the speed to play SS?

Secondly, who do you think the Bengals will keep as their backup quarterback? The emergency is over, and Carson looks very good. Does either of them want to stay? Do Wright and/or Johnson consider themselves NFL starters and want to test the market? I would think either of them would be cheap to keep, but who knows who needs a quality backup or temporary starter that badly?

With Palmer healthy, how far will the club go to keep one or both of them?
**--Bob F., Moultrie, GA

BOB:** One of the ways to set off Lewis is to ask him if Johnson or Miller can play safety. He has pretty much laughed at such suggestions and I'm not sure what would change his mind now.

I agree with what you say about Miller, but they didn't seem to be happy with anyone there even though it seemed like Miller and rookie Ahmad Brooks gave them more than decent production at middle linebacker during Brian Simmons' absence. But I think they felt like when they got Simmons back, he, Landon, and Rashad Jeanty were their three best backers.

The backup QB thing could go any number of ways. Both Anthony Wright and Doug Johnson are free agents and as the Bengals found out last spring in their courting of Patrick Ramsey, Brian Griese and Joey Harrington, no one wants to sit behind a Pro Bowler.

It'd be tough to see both Wright and Johnson coming back because you know the club would like to develop a younger guy and you have to believe they're also looking at possible places to play. PBS isn't as enticing as it was last offseason for a backup QB.

But I'm not so sure they think they have draft picks to spend on a raw one because, in reality, it's a luxury and there are so many other holes to fill. Plus, they don't have a third-round pick because of the supplemental drafting of Brooks last summer.

They could also see what other teams are going to leave behind and they may catch an upgrade. But it may very well end up Palmer-Veteran-Kid, but it's still too early for them to have made a decision.

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