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Hobson's Choice: Long road for CFAs

Q: Can you discuss some of the college free agents that were signed? Which have a realistic chance to make the team or practice squad?
--Bo, Atlanta

BO: Because of the 10 draft picks, the influx of injured players returning, and the small CFA class with the loss NFL Europe roster exemptions, it looks to be a longshot for any of them to make the 53.

So what else is new?

Guys to watch for the practice squad could be the pair of local fullbacks in Tyler Whaley and Bradley Glatthaar, and maybe linebacker Anthony Hoke as well as cornerback Simeon Castille.

Another guy to keep an eye on is Nebraska wide receiver Maurice Purify. Purify made it after surviving a tryout at the rookie camp that included intense interviews with the club about his legal problems. He is facing possible jail time for violating probation from a past no-contest plea. According to scouting reports, he was arrested in '06 on two counts of assault and one count of resisting arrest and then just five weeks later he was arrested again for suspicion of drunken driving.

The Bengals researched him and wide receivers coach Mike Sheppard told Purify's hometown paper in Eureka, Calif., "In camp, two good things happened. One, he really presented himself well. We thought that was important. We knew his history, but he made a good impression here. Two, he played well. We had a good look at him, had a long talk with him. Coach (Marvin) Lewis had a long talk with him. At the end, we felt good about him."

At 6-3, 225 pounds, Purify was one of the best players on the field at that camp but it's a logjam at receiver with two Pro Bowlers and two high draft picks.

It's just as jammed at fullback, where they only keep one. Jeremi Johnson's physical condition is always a concern in the offseason. He's not going anywhere because he always seems ready to answer the bell in September. But Ohio State's Whaley and the University of Cincinnati's Glatthaar are going to get a look for the practice squad. Whaley is a classic lead blocker type while Glatthaar is trying to make the transition to fullback from running back and could be a guy that plays both spots.

The 6-0, 238-pound Hoke, also out of Cincinnati, is getting a look at middle linebacker after a college career at end. Backer could be the best shot for a CFA, but if they keep seven like they did last year, it doesn't look to be in the cards for a project.

The 6-0, 195-pound Castille had draftable grades on production (12 picks) in two years, but the knock on him is that he's too slow for corner and too small for safety. He's got a preseason to prove them wrong, but there are plenty of people in his way.

Ethan Kilmer worked at corner this week as they try to develop him into a corner-safety after missing all last season with a knee injury. Plus there is Kyries Hebert, once the highest-paid defensive player in Canada, and special team stalwarts Herana-Daze Jones and John Busing also at safety working behind the top three of Dexter Jackson, Marvin White and Chinedum Ndukwe.

The top five corners going in are Leon Hall, Johnathan Joseph, Deltha O'Neal, Blue Adams and David Jones.

But it's early.

Q: Who do you see as our primary kick and punt returners? Do you see any of the receivers just drafted doubling as a returner? I would have liked seeing Bennie Brazell return as a special teams player due to his speed but that doesn't appear to be happening.
--Jay, Mason, OH

JAY: One of the most glaring things they didn't address in the offseason is the return game and it is one of their thinnest spots.

The kick returner is incumbent Glenn Holt, trying to rebound from a season he fumbled three kicks. The punt returner looks to be Antonio Chatman, but what happens if he's taking snaps as the third receiver?

After Holt, veteran wide receiver Doug Gabriel figures to get a look. Gabriel has 85 career kick returns in the NFL with one touchdown but only a 21.5-yard average. Plus, he's embroiled in a big-time roster fight.

The only new receiver that appears to have any kind of returnability is third-rounder Andre Caldwell on kickoffs. He is special teams coach Darrin Simmons' kind of guy, a fast straight-line runner that gets it and goes. But he hasn't done it for a couple of years since breaking his leg returning one for Florida.

There were chances.

The best returner in the draft was on the board at No. 9 in the person of Troy's Leodis McKelvin, a cornerback the Bengals felt they didn't need as much as USC linebacker Keith Rivers.

Then Virginia Tech's Eddie Royal went four picks before the Bengals' choice in the second round, but if they weren't going to trade up to get the 6-5 James Hardy at that point, they weren't going to trade up for the 5-9, 185-pound Royal, a guy that didn't fit into their big-receiver blueprint.

That's probably why they opted for the 6-1, 200-pound Jerome Simpson at No. 46 instead of the receiver-returners that went after him, Cal's DeSean Jackson to Philly at No. 49 and Appalachian State's Dexter Jackson to Tampa Bay at No. 58.

It looks like they made the call to go for the every-down player, which is what they did when Devin Hester was on the board in the second round in 2006 and they chose offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth. A good pick, no question. Solid player, versatile, and an even better human being. Just like the guys this year have a chance to be.

But they could have at least addressed it before the draft or in the later rounds.

Bennie just couldn't stay healthy, not good for a return man.

Q: What is going on at linebacker with all the names? What do SAM, WILL, strong side, weak side mean?
--Ken Anderson, Canton, OH

KEN: OK, we made this one up. We didn't get a specific question about it, but we know people want it clarified.

Marvin Lewis has long insisted that SAM and WILL are not alignments. They are merely the names for the two outside linebacker position. They can align to the tight end or away from the tight end depending on the defensive call.

Q: The end for St Louis? The signing of Tim Bugg is bigger than is getting noticed. This guy was money at Indiana in some sloppy conditions from time to time putting the ball on the money. Do you think this spells the end for Brad St Louis?
--Faulk, Floyds Knobs, IN


St. Louis turns 32 in August and has had some high-profile miscues as the club's long snapper. But if you look at his body of work during his eight seasons, he's been more than steady.

Simmons, the special teams coach, is not the kind of guy who is going to blow up the four-year operation of St. Louis to holder Kyle Larson to kicker Shayne Graham. Graham is the NFL's most accurate active kicker as well as the second best of all-time and they know St. Louis is a big part of it.

Clearly they must have high regard for Bugg and he was on the money enough at the rookie camp for them to sign him. But you have to believe they brought him here to evaluate him further, train him, and then get him on a phone list or the practice squad for insurance. It doesn't seem to be a short-range deal.

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