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Hobson's Choice: In praise of Tab

Q: The Pats just released WR Reche Caldwell. He would be a perfect No 3 until Henry comes back. I think the Bengals should do something out of the ordinary and sign a player with some stats: 61 catches and four TDs last year. Tab is not ready to be a No 3. No disrespect, he's a great kick returner and a good No 4, but I don't think he's a 3.
--Craig, Detroit. MI

CRIAG: You may end up being right, although I think Perry will be fine and they were saying the same thing about T.J. Houshmandzadeh heading into 2004.

But they set themselves back if they bring in a new receiver this close to the opener because of where the guy would be in the playbook and timing with Carson Palmer. By the time he gets in a groove, Henry is back.

And given these guys weren't enamored with Kelley Washington and the Pats cut Caldwell and kept Washington, well, that wouldn't sit well here.

I'm not sure why people are so down on Perry. He's tough, physical, reliable, versatile. He's got starting size and speed.

Yes, he dropped a few balls in the preseason, but if Palmer throws the ball on the money to him against New Orleans a few weeks back, we're not having this discussion.

And that's no knock on Palmer. They haven't been together much, but they've got a lot more chemistry than if a guy like Caldwell shows up cold and starts taking reps.

Plus, there's the Carson Factor. If you've got a pulse, he'll find you and make you look good doing it. And Perry has much more than a pulse

The stats are appreciated and I see what you're saying about Caldwell. But a guy like Michael Westbrook came in here with stats as late as July and he never got on the same page with anybody.

Of course could anybody get on the same page in a QB Quagmire of Gus Frerotte, Jon Kitna and Akili Smith?

But you get the point.

There are two articles about Cliff Dawson on and one says that he can catch and the other implies that he isn't much of a receiver. Which one is accurate?
--Jim B., Houston, TX

JIM: Both, actually.

We called him a pass-receiving running back, and a guy who caught 80 balls in college (to finish in his school's all-time top 10) qualifies.

And, yes, we quoted his college coach saying it's not his forte and looking at his 9.5-yard average you'd have to agree, although Chris Perry averaged just 6.4 on his 51 catches out of the backfield in 2005.

What you want to know is if Dawson is a good pass catcher or what is he going to be on this level. So do we.

We'll have to wait.

The fact is, you're not going to get Kenny Irons or Chris Perry off the waiver wire. But you can get a young Kenny Watson that can help right now on third down and special teams and has some of the speed qualities of Irons and Perry.

Everyone from Dawson's coach, Tim Murphy, to his old quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, raves about his ability to pass protect and his toughness and his 4.4 speed.

Give him some practice snaps with running backs coach Jim Anderson, and let's see how he develops as a receiver. It may not be his forte now.

Q: I'm at a loss about Ed Hartwell. If anyone earned a spot, he did and we cut him loose. Do you think we could have found room somewhere for a player like him? Our (defense) needs all the help it can get.
--Roger W., New Port Richey, FL

ROGER: You're not the only one wondering. But don't go away. He could be back here after the opener, depending on how people come out of the game, injury and otherwise.

It looks like Hartwell was a victim of all the casualties on special teams. It's what got Quincy Wilson cut, in the end.

That's why they also kept guys like tight end Nate Lawrie and claimed guys like former Jets third-rounder Anthony Schlegel, a linebacker. They are big guys that can run. Schlegel is a downhill guy in the mold of Hartwell, but he's younger and can help on teams.

But Schlegel has only played in four NFL games, so the question is what happens if Ahmad Brooks doesn't pan out in the middle?

The signing of Lemar Marshall, who is actually a year older and not as banged up as Hartwell, seems to have solved that problem because he can play both strong side and the middle as well as teams. So can Caleb Miller.

But, yeah, cutting Hartwell was a tough move and Marvin Lewis eloquently expressed how tough it was in his Saturday news conference. The guy did what he was supposed to do. Plug holes and make plays. But the way the roster broke down and how they needed people to cover in the kicking game, a backup run stuffer limited on teams became a luxury.

That may change but that is the world as it stands.

Q: To be completely honest, Geoff, I think our defensive line is excellent. I think they are top 15 easily. What I am worried about is linebacker and safety. Although the safeties get better each week. What do you think about our line and where do you feel we hurt most on defense?
--Adam F. Maineville, OH

ADAM: How about the Bengals leading the NFL preseason in run defense? They did, to the tune of 71 yards per game, but the worry has to be the experience factor at middle linebacker and the Mattress Factory cushion the cornerbacks are giving.

Top 15? I'm not sure about that, but ends Justin Smith and Robert Geathers were one of the league's top sack tandems with 19 and in November and December it wasn't the run defense that beat the Bengals.

They checked LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers on 107 rushing yards, but it was big plays in the back end that blew the 28-7 halftime lead.

Neither the Colts nor Broncos reached four yards per rush while Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler posted passer ratings of 136.3 and 88.9, respectively. And while the Steelers did pummel them on the ground for 207 yards in the finale, it was the 67-yard touchdown walk from Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes that ended the season.

Now, could the defensive line offer a more consistent pass rush? Absolutely.

But look at the four games just played. The Bengals tied for the third most sacks in the preseason (13), and yet the foes' passer rating is a disturbing 92.3.

Remember, three of the first four quarterbacks they face, Steve McNair on Monday night, Matt Hasselbeck on Sept. 23, and Tom Brady on Oct. 1 are the kind of guys that will have field days if the defense lets them throw three- and five-step drops to receivers slanting in front of the coverage.

But, agreed. And, the promotion of Domata Peko and the addition of first man off the bench Michael Myers at tackle upgrade the line.

It would make sense, too, that the Bengals haven't shown much of their hand defensively, so who knows what's in store Monday night?

Remember, defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, secondary coach Kevin Coyle, and his assistant, Louie Cioffi, got these guys in good enough position two years ago to lead the NFL in interceptions and send their second straight cornerback to a Pro Bowl.

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