Hobson's Choice: In-line depth

Q: I am amazed at some of the talent that will have to be cut this year and hopefully next year as well. How are the backup OL stacking up in camp? Are The CMU boys as good as advertised? Is Wilkerson the best center in last year's draft? Is Andrews an OL or an Olympian? Is Whitworth a keeper? If the Bengals let Stienbach and/or Anderson go next year, are we still a top five OL and if not how big is the dropoff?
**--Kurt, Elkhart, IN

KURT:** No room at the inn for a lot of them because the backup linemen are guys that have been drafted and groomed.

It's a tough time for left tackle Adam Kieft as he tries to bounce back from last August's reconstructive knee surgery. Since he hasn't taken a snap yet in camp, that suggests he's a serious candidate for PUP, which means he couldn't practice for the first six weeks of the regular season. But they could also keep him around and that's something they would like to do because they like the way the guy approaches playing left tackle.

Kieft's Central Michigan teammate, backup center Eric Ghiaciuc, is watching Rich Braham have a heck of a camp at age 35 in putting that stranglehold on the starting job. Ghiaciuc continues to impress with his athleticism and now they'd like to see him take it to the next level and do it out in space.

Ben Wilkerson, the second-year player LSU who went from a Rimmington Award winner to an undrafted free agent in 2005, is starting to get his legs back and is making things interesting in the race with Ghiaciuc. Wilkerson is behind because of so much time he lost in rehabbing his torn patella tendon, but he's starting to show why he would have been drafted in the first day if he stayed healthy. Tough guy for people to evaluate because Sunday night marks the first time he's played in a game since Oct. 30, 2004. Have to see how he plays.

Andrews and Whitworth look to be guys you want to keep around as potential starters. Both are huge men that also have some rare athletic gifts for people so large. Andrews has the foot work of an Olympian and they are excited to see if he can also add guard to his repertoire starting Sunday night. Whitworth is a former junior tennis champion schooled as a tackle who has taken to guard as well as any rookie offensive line coach Paul Alexander has had in 12 seasons here.

If Anderson and Steinbach leave, there would clearly be a dropoff and they would no longer be top five. No question. You'd be losing a multiple Pro Bowler in Anderson and a future Pro Bowler in Steinbach.

But unlike the early '90s when they let one of the greatest offensive lines ever break up and quickly entered a black hole, they've got enough in the cupboard to remain a contender.

Q: Mike Brown is 71. Who is next in line? I remember Paul had Mike working for him. Does Mike have family in the organization being groomed for the job? Thanks.
**--Bob, Moultrie, GA

BOB:** Katie Blackburn, Mike's daughter, is doing for him what he did for Paul and she's more than groomed to take the job. She's already had a major role in negotiating a stadium lease, made a major push to hire an outsider as head coach, and got a pre-draft deal done for the No. 1 pick and later a six-year extension on franchise quarterback Carson Palmer. Now all she has to do is figure out what to do for an encore.

Brown will tell you that Blackburn is pretty much running the club, and she is when it comes to the day-to-day details highlighted by the salary cap which, really, is what it's all about anymore.

And, really, that's what Mike did for Paul. He managed the economics, front office, and the nuts and bolts. That was a truly team effort with Mike doing a lot of the heavy lifting, and it's why he also has to be known as at least a co-architect of the successful '80s if he's also going to take the heat for the '90s.

Mike still makes final decisions and he's still a daily presence in the office, but he relies a great deal on his daughter and always takes time to remind people how well he believes the Bengals are set up for the future.

Q: I am curious about Sam Adams. Everything I read, or hear on sports radio, for the most part, assumes he will be ready for the season, but he is on the PUP list.

Is there a chance that he will not be ready? Is he damaged goods? He is working out with the trainers, is he that out of shape, or is it something else? When they talk about the Bengals defense this year everyone agrees they will be better, but almost every comment mentions the addition of Sam. They all reference Sam, but he has yet to hit the field.
**--Darrin, Florence, KY

DARRIN:** They think Sam is going to be ready and why not? He's answered the bell everywhere else, particularly for Marvin in Baltimore.

No, he hasn't done football yet and there has been no reason given so you have to assume they felt he needed more strength and conditioning work because those are the coaches with which he's been working. It's hard to believe that Sam would need more strength, but from what I understand Sam is doing more in preseason than he did during the Ravens days.

I don't see how a guy who is a year removed from the Pro Bowl while playing for a Top 10 defense is damaged goods. He's quirky, he's independent, but he knows how to play this game.

In my small mind, anyway, Adams is a lock for Kansas City and Carson Palmer isn't.

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