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Hobson's Choice: IR Can't Lull

Q: How many of the players on the Bengals injured reserve started at least one game this season? Does this verify the media consensus that we are just not as talented as other teams this year?
--Todd Logan, IN

TODD: I like where you're headed. The danger of this season is to chalk it up to injury and just hope everybody gets healthy. They have to remember when they were relatively healthy, except for Carson Palmer, they were still 1-8.

Even though he's not officially on IR, I think you have to count Palmer starting on Oct. 5, as well as fullback Jeremi Johnson, hurt the week before the season and then was waived.

So that number is nine players who did or would have started a game ending up on IR. But the third starter, WILL linebacker Keith Rivers, didn't join Johnson and Palmer until Oct. 21 after getting hurt early in the Pittsburgh game, when they were 0-6. The next one was safety Dexter Jackson on Oct. 30, when they were 0-8. The next three - cornerback Johnathan Joseph, and defensive ends Robert Geathers and Frostee Rucker, went on IR in the days following the Nov. 20 date in Pittsburgh, a game they entered 1-8-1.

Certainly you can make the argument that they only had Palmer healthy for two games and that virtually means everything. And there are key starters like left tackle Levi Jones and right end Antwan Odom that played hurt all year, have missed three and four games, respectively, and are not on IR. Safety Chinedum Ndukwe has missed the last three games and is not IR. A key complementary player that didn't start, like third receiver/punt returner Antonio Chatman, is on IR, and third cornerback David Jones has missed the last two games and is not on IR.

But, again, look at the timeline. Except for Jones and Odom, all those guys went down after the 1-8 start.

But the offense was already sick. Indeed, two of the symptoms, poor pass protection and no timing between the quarterback and the receivers, are what got Palmer hurt. By the time November got here, it was clear they need to upgrade personnel to run the ball and protect the passer.

No question the injuries have had an impact and they have a lot of talent on the shelf. But they can't be lulled. Leave it to no less an expert than Palmer, who observed a few weeks ago that they were 0-4 with him. Plus, you have to look at teams like New England, Tennessee and Baltimore that have overcome quarterback injuries.

Q: I don't know if the Bengals liked what they saw from Bobbie Williams in training camp and preseason as a center, but with their obvious need for someone bigger and badder than Ghiaciuc, do you think it is at all possible we see him there next year? I think it is something they might consider. He has plenty of experience and I'm sure he can get everyone lined up and on the same page. He seems to be the leader on the line as it stands now, and he is 345 pounds. Sounds like it could be a perfect fit. This would allow them to draft a guy to groom under him and avoid paying a free agent, which would leave money for other positions.
--Johnathan, New York, NY

JOHNATHAN: All the things you say about Bobbie are true. He does a lot of the communicating now. But if they have to make a change at right tackle and move a guy like left guard Andrew Whitworth or left tackle Anthony Collins over there, not to mention a new center, you'd want the experience of Williams next to them at right guard.

It's going to be tough to re-sign right tackle Stacy Andrews and the way the draft is looking, the best value with one of the top five picks is going to a left tackle. (No one wants to take a running back that high, right?) That would allow them to move Collins to right tackle and keep Whitworth at left guard, where he was having a heck of a year and showing all the signs of becoming a Pro Bowler there.

And with this being a strong year for centers (that's a nice high pick in the top of the third round), they can draft one. That way, you can leave Williams at right guard, and he can help the two kids on either side of him. Same with Whit at left guard.

A rookie center, plus a rookie left tackle, and new right tackle scares me. The emphasis of this franchise now has to be on putting what amounts to a Pope Mobile around Palmer. Call it the Carson Carousel, but they have got to protect him at any cost. Maybe they can pluck a bargain center in free agency that can show the kid the ropes.

But, they also have a couple of intriguing young guys at center that could possibly help them and who have practiced for at least a year before going on IR in Dan Santucci and Kyle Cook. Plus, they like the smarts and toughness of a guy they picked up in October from the Washington practice squad in Andrew Crummey, the backup now that played his first NFL snaps last Sunday in a mop-up role. And, let's face it, they have to retool it and if you have to play your best in games, you have to play your best in games.

But we'll always wonder what this year would have been like, won't we, if they had stuck with the Jurassic line of Williams at center, Andrews at right guard and Willie Anderson at right tackle. Bobbie would have gotten better and it sure seems like having Anderson at right tackle hasn't hurt Baltimore's running game.

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