Hobson's Choice: Jump ball

Q: Who do you think will be the starting safeties next season? I am guessing that Marvin White and Chinedum Ndukwe could be the starters, but they both still have little experience heading into only their second seasons. Dexter Jackson is still very capable of playing so he should also get a chance at starting, shouldn't he? Then again, Chinny and Marvin White both played well in the last few games when they had to step in because of injuries. I was just wondering what your take on this spot would be.
--Tanner G., Bismark N.D.

TANNER: Two of them will start but it's a jump ball right now. Don't count out Jackson because of his age (31) and salary ($2M) because they liked how he moved around before he suffered a leg muscle strain in the spring camps and the experience of all the other safeties doesn't add up to his 115 games.

The question to me is what happens if Jackson doesn't start?

Clearly he would have to assume a special teams role, but safeties like Herana-Daze Jones and John Busing have already supplied valuable special teams snaps, Kyries Hebert lit up special teams in Canada, and rookie Corey Lynch got nominated for an ESPY for his special teams work in Appalachian State's win for the ages against Michigan.

It's an interesting dynamic. You have to like not only Jackson's experience, but his chip-on-the-shoulder when it comes to getting this defense to stand up and act like they're not second-class citizens.

Jackson picked up on it right away when he came over from Tampa Bay in '06 and new defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has sounded a similar theme this spring. That's good to have around.

Q: I wanted to ask about the prospects of the Bengals signing either Lorenzo Neal or LeCharles Bentley. I didn't even realize that Neal is an unsigned free agent. If we are hellbent on running the ball, wouldn't he merit consideration? LeCharles Bentley also seems like a guy worth trying to sign as well. We are weak with center depth and I would welcome a competition between him and Eric. At the very least it would develop depth.
--Doug, Lebanon, OH

DOUG: How about odds of 100-1? That's got to be roughly the combined age of Neal's birth certificate and Bentley's knees.

And that doesn't mean they're not concerned about those spots. But, let's face it. The two things Bengals management detests most—age and injury—are personified in Neal and Bentley.

The last thing you could see them doing is signing the 37-year-old Neal and a 28-year-old Bentley that has lost two seasons to a devastating series of knee injuries that no doubt makes Sam Adams' MRIs look like they came out of a medical school textbook.

If I was doing it, I'd get Neal in here because can they really run the lead play with a converted tight end in Dan Coats? You make a good point. Can they run the ball without an effective veteran fullback?

Coats may be able to do it eventually, but where does that put them right now if Jeremi Johnson is deemed out of shape and out of a job? Coats has never done it anywhere.

I can see where the Bengals are coming from. To go out and sign a fullback because of one play (the lead) in a spot that will play about 30 percent of the snaps, you'd like to think your offensive line and your playbook are good enough to overcome something like that and you can make it in the running game with how you use your four tight ends.

Indy runs the ball pretty well, and they don't have the traditional fullback. There are one-back teams that run the ball well. So, OK, don't sign the museum piece.

But wouldn't you feel better with a fullback that has done it? It's why I've been talking about bringing in one more experienced linebacker.

There's nothing like youth.

Until it costs you a few games in a 9-7 division.

Then again, what if one of those young backers makes a couple of game-saving athletic plays on special teams that the savvy veteran has no shot to make?

As for Bentley ... no doubt, once a great player. But the Browns are trying to tell you something by letting him go the day he finally returns healthy.

Granted, the last day of minicamp threw a scare into everybody when Dan Santucci and Kyle Cook couldn't snap the ball. But both looked good enough last year in pads to warrant a roster fight this year. If they can't prove themselves in camp, there has to be someone healthier out there.

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