Hobson's Choice: Landon still around

Hi Geoff,

I have been reading that Pollack is potentially going to replace Landon Johnson in the starting lineup this year. Why would they do this? Landon had 133 tackles as a rookie LB with a shoulder that needed surgery, and playing a new position, MLB. He is back this year, he looks fast as ever from being at Georgetown for the scrimmage, and he seems to be a lock to me.

My question is, why would the Bengals want to replace Johnson who has done everything right at OLB, with a guy that held out all camp, missed out on Kevin Greene teaching him because of the holdout, and a guy who is changing positions? I know Pollack is a great football player, but I see him more as a versatile backup that can play OLB in a 4-3 or a 3-4 and line up as a DE on occassion. Mix everyone up, give each of the linebackers a breather, and give them equal time. I don't want to see Johnson moved from the starting lineup though. What do you think?

Scott Greenville, OH SCOTT:**
Landon Johnson isn't going anywhere. If and when they deem Pollack competent enough to take over for him on the strong side, that doesn't mean he's going up on a shelf.

We've often heard new defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan say that 15 or so guys are going to play regularly for a variety of reasons in the effort to get the right personnel on the field to match the down and distance. Johnson figures to be a staple on third down because of his ability to cover backs and tight ends. He runs so well, you wouldn't even really freak if he had to cover a wide out for a snap. He'll still be getting plenty of plays if he's not starting. It's almost like a basketball lineup with Johnson, nickel back Keiwan Ratliff, and tackle/end Carl Powell the sixth men.

You're right. Johnson had one of their best training camps, which gives them the opportunity to ease Pollack into his role. And, if it turns out the transition from end to backer is too tough this year, the nice thing is you hang with Johnson and use Pollack off the edge on third down.

Bresnahan indicated they could start off using Pollack off the bench, but after seeing him in the spring they are fairly certain they've got an every-down, smart and relentless player. It's because of his versatility that they want him to play every down so the defense doesn't know where he's going to line up.

But Johnson gives them a great luxury. If Pollack and the other rookie, middle linebacker Odell Thurman, struggle early, then he can move into their spots. Although, at a rangy 227 pounds, he's not a natural middle backer. But if things aren't coming together, his presence should help prevent a major meltdown when you know the running games of the Browns, Vikings, and Bears are going to try and smash it at them in the first three real games.

Plus, it helps that linebacker Caleb Miller (ankle) is supposed to return before the opener and, like Johnson, he can play all three spots.

At some point, you figure Johnson is going to be a starter with the soonest available spot on the weak side, where Brian Simmons just turned 30. Johnson may be the heir apparent there, but not any time soon. Simmons has shown no signs of slowing down and isn't going anywhere, either.

But the way Bresnahan is talking about versatility, and the way his mentors like Bill Belichick and Jim Johnson use a lot of guys, you still figure to see Landon Johnson frequently.

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