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Hobson's Choice: Line dance

Q: With the Bengals' intact defense we should have little problems on the defensive side of the football. My question is what should the Bengals do to keep Carson Palmer more protected by his offensive line? The Bengals have a "broken and battered" offensive line. I've seen Carson scrambling out of the pocket and getting hit a lot, mostly after he throws the ball at the right time. How can they use their pick in the draft if they pick a great offensive lineman like Andre Smith? --*Tyler D., Las Vegas, NV

TYLER:Broken and battered? I know the guy took some shots, but they were also No. 9 running the ball in the league and they gave up the 10th fewest sacks per pass.

Like I've said, it didn't look pretty at times and he took some shots. They better make sure they get Smith ready and healthy and they need to get younger and upgrade if they can at guard. But I don't think it is dire on the line after a season they had four guys in new spots and all those guys are back.

Get a guard in the first four or five rounds and let's go. I do think they need to re-sign Williams for right guard, but if they decide they want to get younger they've got two guys that played a lot of left guard last year in Nate Livings and Evan Mathis while they develop a draft pick.     

Protect Palmer? Keep running the ball effectively. I'm more concerned about finding a backup bellcow running back for Cedric Benson insurance if he misses a few games. Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard are his backups and they are untouchable valuable. But if Benson needs a month, they need a 25-carry guy to go with them.

Q: With this being an uncapped year I was hoping you could clear up some confusion I and probably other readers are having. What's with all the talk that we may not be able to re-sign some of our own to long-term contracts? There is no cap this year. So it's confusing. What is the factor limiting spending? *

Also on this note why is T.O. not still an option? There is a good chance in the next few weeks the price will come down. He would be a great addition and provide stability for a year while we rebuild the pass game and personnel.* --Matt W., South, Vienna, OH'

MATT: After spending about $22 million in tenders and bonuses for Antonio Bryant and Tank Johnson, the Bengals are slowing down on spending even though there is no salary cap, although they are still trying to grind something out with right guard Bobbie Williams.

Here are probably some of the factors why they are hesitating on some of their guys that are up and other free agents even though it is an uncapped year:

First, there is a good chance this is going to be the only year there won't be a cap so they may not want to get out of whack for a potential cap in '11 or whenever one comes back.

At the very least, teams that go over what would have been the cap are probably going to be in line for some kind an adjustment when there is a cap. So you're going to have to pay up sooner or later.

Second, they no doubt have a budget even though there is no cap. If you think T.O. is about $4 million for one year, it would be hard to see any budget in the league that would have $18 million in one year for three receivers.

Which gets to the next factors.

The economy and the labor crisis. The Bengals have always been cautious in their small market and even more so now after a year they swept the division and still needed extensions to sell out many of their home game. And there is probably no business in the country that would spend more than usual not knowing if they will be open or closed by a lockout the next year.

It didn't count against the cap, but making Mike Zimmer the first seven-figure coordinator in club history back in January was a bit uncharacteristic for the franchise given the economic conditions, And that may be another factor in pulling up right now, and Marvin Lewis has told us they already have approached him twice on an extension and that's some big dollars there, too.

Plus, they know they have to start looking at getting deals with guys that aren't up this year, such as Johnathan Joseph, Leon Hall, Cedric Benson and Kyle Cook.

Believe me, I'm one of these guys that says to heck with it. No cap, so let's go for broke and get Carson to the Bowl before the window closes with T.O. and sign up Bobbie and Shayne Graham.

But that wasn't the question. The question was what are the limits in a no cap year and those, I would think, are the handful of factors.

I wish it was fantasy football, but the other side of it is the real world. There are only 45 guys that are going to be active Sunday, there is just one ball, not everybody can be 29 and 30 years old, and they do have some draft picks coming.

But, hey, if T.O. is sitting there after the draft for a mill…

Q: Could you please take a minute to bring us up to speed with how Mike Zimmer and the coaches view Michael Johnson's role on the defense? With all the talk of needing a pass rushing DE and an OLB in the upcoming draft, one would have to think MJ is more than capable based upon what we saw out of him last season. So, where does he fit from the organization's standpoint so us fans can put the talk to rest heading into the draft? --*Marc C., Sioux Falls, S.D.

MARC: If you drafted another one of those guys, it would only to be to complement Johnson and not shelve him. Both Lewis and Zimmer are high on Johnson as a third-down pass rusher, although Zimmer wants him to get stronger.

The sense is they're going to continue to work with him as an end that can drop off into coverage and they may continue to experiment with him inside on passing downs. They're hoping he becomes the guy that quarterbacks have to find and that offensive lines have to slide to and I agree with you that he's got a pretty good start.

But there are a lot of good D-ends in this draft. How well does Antwan Odom bounce back from his Achilles? A lesser question but a question just the same, how does Robert Geathers come back from his knee? My own personal draft rule in the AFC North is never by pass a lineman on either side of the ball if you think he can play a long time.

With Rey Maualuga, Keith Rivers, Brandon Johnson and Rashad Jeanty all in the fold, you would think they're not going to draft a pure OLB.

Q: Being a Bengals fan in Chicago, I hear a lot of talk about the Bears possibly trading TE Greg Olsen. What are the chances of trading a second-round pick for Olsen and benefiting from his receiving ability? At the very least, Olsen can learn some blocking techniques from Reggie Kelly and demand some attention from opposing pass coverages. --*Patrick, Chicago, IL

PATRICK: Good idea. But did you catch what Lewis said at the scouting combine last month?

He went on for a pretty lengthy riff about how you need your tight ends to block in the AFC North and how some of these receiving type tight ends that recently came into the division (read Kellen Winslow Jr.) didn't work out. I'm not comparing Olsen to Winslow but the fact that the first thing new Bears offensive coordinator Mike  Martz did in free agency is sign a massive blocking tight end in Brandon Manumaleuna gives you some idea of the kind of blocker that Olsen isn't.

Look, the Bengals' tight end situation is a mess. The first priority, in my mind, should be re-signing Reggie Kelly. 1-A should be re-signing J.P. Foschi because you don't know about Kelly's Achilles. We know Kelly can block and Foschi can, too.

The second priority should be figuring out what to draft, but don't draft a Chase Coffman clone coming out of a spread offense that can only catch. I'd hate to spend a second-round pick on Olsen and then find out that he can't get in Terrell Suggs' way. Unless, of course, you get rid of Coffman and you decide Olsen is your receiving tight end because you know what you got in the veteran. But what are you giving up in Coffman?

Whatever, you just have to make up your mind. And we talked about this with offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski before the scouting combine. Nowadays, you've got to find a tight end that can catch and another one that can block. The college spread has killed the tight end that can do both.

If you find yourself saying, "They can teach him to block," you're in trouble. Just make him the receiving tight end.

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