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Hobson's Choice: moves and grooves

My question is about the LBs. What player or players are pushing the starters for playing time or at least making noise before camp? We all wanna know what's going on with the OLine. Who's looking better with the change in coaching? Also what's the plan for the DLine? Are guys gonna move around and play multiple spots? Will we have a rushmen package like the buckeyes? #WhoDey #WhoDeyNation #Bengals #SeasonTicketMember Josh Mason, Cincinnati, OH

JOSH:  Your support is much appreciated in these parts. Frankly, before the pads come on, it’s all noise, particularly with the three positions of which you speak. Can’t tell much.

I don’t see the starting backers (Vontaze Burfict at WILL, Preston Brown at MIKE, Nick Vigil at SAM) getting pushed, but there are some intriguing questions. They see sophomore Jordan Evans as an emerging guy, so we’ll see if he can hold on to the WILL starting spot when Burfict begins his four-game suspension on Opening Day.  Undrafted rookie Chris Worley has looked good enough early to pencil in a run at what figures to be Burfict’s Opening Day roster spot.

But, look, you can’t automatically count out an undrafted guy like Connecticut rookie Junior Joseph. Yes, the picture of a huge longshot. 100-1. But the guy is a baller with pads on so let’s wait and see.

And how are they going to count Carl Lawson? A sixth backer or ninth defensive lineman? Probably as one of the nine down lineman, but let’s see how new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin uses him. Lawson is obviously a linchpin of the Bengals’ Rushmen package, otherwise known as the nickel front.

You know who they are. Lawson and Carlos Dunlap on the perimeter. Geno Atkins inside with end Michael Johnson being able to play inside and out. Jordan Willis and Sam Hubbard are also going to get nickel rushes on the perimeter and I imagine they’ll give those guys looks inside, too. Keep an eye on fifth-round tackle Andrew Brown, a guy who has looked interesting as inside pass rusher who might be able to play both of those spots in nickel.

No question. We all want to know who is going to look better with the new O-line coaching. But the spring has been all about getting them ready to play in pads. I guess you can say Cedric Ogbuehi has responded well to new offensive line coach Frank Pollack and if there is a surprise that came out of the voluntary practices it is that he’s apparently in the mix to start at right tackle.

Plus, third-year guards Alex Redmond and Christian Westerman don’t look overwhelmed by the fact one of them may be the Opening Day right guard. Beyond left tackle Cordy Glenn and rookie center Billy Price looking as solid as the back of their football cards, that’s about all we know.

Greetings Mr. Hobson, I've been a long, long, long time Bengals fan.... since 1968. I really enjoyed the time when The Bengals actually came to Dayton and had a practice at Dayton's Welcome Stadium where Olympic hero Edwin C. Moses ran when he was destroying records in high school.

My question concerns Head Coach Marvin Lewis. I am 100% a fan and supporter of Marvin. I very much feel that the last two seasons are not so much a fault of his (though Marvin would never claim this position), but a result General management economics that many NFL organizations struggle with at certain points.

My question is based on your observation and opinion of Head Coach Marvin Lewis. "What elite qualities do you see in Coach Lewis?" In my opinion, Marvin has a powerful ability to attract and convince top level coaches to sign with the Bengals organization, AND buy into his philosophy.

This is an elite equality that never gets serious attention. I mean pulling one of the top O-Line coaches in the NFL, snatching future hall of fame QB A. Rodgers positional coach, pulling one of the hottest HC candidates to coordinate the defense, etc., etc., etc. Marvin has become a Head Coach factory for the NFL! The bashing of this talented man is so hateful and biased that there needs to be a major PR campaign just to add some honest balance. I hope that you respond because I would like to hear your opinion. Thanks. Victor Pate, Dayton, OH

VICTOR: Good to hear from you again. I always enjoy your input. I never knew Moses was from Dayton until my first trip to the city about 30 years ago. You know you’re big when your name is stretched across an exit sign in the heart of your downtown.

You make some really solid points about Marvin Lewis and I agree with you that his abilities of establishing a culture in a highly volatile business and attracting, as well as retaining, solid coaches and players from around the NFL is extremely underrated.

Look at the annual near perfect attendance of his players at the voluntary spring workouts, the high retention rate of their core players, the number of assistants that have become head coaches after coaching for him and how often the club competes hard during the season no matter the situation and it reflects the amount of respect Lewis has in the locker room and around the league.

Think back to how hard it was the Bengals to attract free agents before he arrived and it makes you realize how important his ability to form relationships with players and agents were at the center of turning the thing around in 2003.

What also gets lost is how much the Brown family has supported him. There’s not much he doesn’t get. He’s got a lot of sway in the upper reaches of the organization and he’s got a close relationship with the personnel department while having a lot influence building this team. Not many head coaches get franchise quarterbacks for 16 seasons, unless you’re talking about a certain duo in Foxboro.

Of course, everyone has to own there have been no post-season victories since 2003 and that would yield another discussion. But there’s no question that Mike Brown got a leader when he needed to one re-establish his franchise in the swim of the league.

Another thing that Marvin doesn’t get enough credit for is his impact on the Cincinnati environs through his foundation. We all remember the very tough times the city went through in the summer of 2001 and I think Marv’s presence, his involvement with the youth, and the team that emerged early in his tenure helped the healing.

Hey Hobbs, another question from NY. Feels like I’m the only fan up sometimes but I ran into one other day we talked about the amazing 88 season. My question is even with Incognito recent actions why would we not sign him or another RG to replace Zeitler who is missed? Our home grown talent is not cutting it. There has to be an answer in FA or a trade for a win now season move. Because let’s be honest, we have another losing season, we’re rebuilding for a long playoff drought. Thanks, Chris Petote, Hilton, NY

CHRIS: Always a pleasure to hear from Monroe County. How are the Golden Eagles of Brockport looking this year?

I think you’ve got to let new offensive line coach Frank Pollack establish what he’s got going, which is looking and sounding pretty good, and let’s see how Alex Redmond and Christian Westerman at right guard play in the preseason before eliminating the homegrown guys. There are a lot of people in the club still high on these guys.

Richie Incognito? This line already has daunting enough challenges. Pollack has done a great job establishing his scheme and his demeanor and a controversial veteran is one of the last things he needs.

Mr. Hobson: With the increasing high odds against the Bengals to do well in my city (Las Vegas), I try to figure out why that is. For me, it appears we drastically changed the offensive line with Price, Glenn and a new coach. The biggest question marks are on the health side with Ross and Eifert, but that seems not enough to tear the Bengals down to such a low level.

Here's my question. Do you think besides our head coach (which to me is obvious), that Bengal fans drink the Kool-Aid on our own players? We all know that Atkins and Green are good, but do we try to accept a lot of our position players as quality when in actuality that's what is holding us back? Say what you want, but is Iloka, S. Williams, D. Kirkpatrick, Dennard, Vigil, Preston Brown and our receiving corps outside of Green really good enough to get us back to where we were or are we simply fooling ourselves. Seems harsh, but love some inside clarity. Harold Mintz Las Vegas

HAROLD:  A lot of these guys you’re wondering about were on that 2015 team, the best Bengals team of the century. They were good enough to help win 12 games.

I think what we’re talking about are the kids from the draft classes of 2016 and 2017 and, yeah, the jury is still out and will decide how this team does from 2018-2020. Although, you’d have to say that William Jackson, Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd, Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis are well on the way to panning out.

But I think we’re talking about guys like John Ross and Josh Malone and I think we’re also talking about the offensive line.  After a new coaching staff gets through revamping the receivers and line, we’ll know if they weren’t in the right scheme or if they have to find others. To me, the offensive scheme and the line play are things that need fixing, not so much the personnel. I think it’s tough to go after the defense for the past two seasons. ’16-17 falls squarely on the offense.

Geoff, I hope all is well. When I wrote in last year at this time, I advocated for the Bengals to go full spread offense. With the weapons we expected, it made sense to me. It didn't happen, especially not when Zampese was coordinator, but we slowly saw the Bengals turn into a shotgun/spread team towards the end of the year under Bill Lazor as they ended up running the third-most RPOs (Run-Pass-Option) in the league. Now, we're hearing the right things from players and reporters about this offense:

Fast, multiple, moving guys around, zone-blocking. This sounds like the Bengals are going closer to Philadelphia's offense and spreading it out to take advantage of the weapons and Dalton's intelligence. And again, I'm all for it. Again, I think these weapons could rival the best of Dalton's career. Year two of Mixon and Ross could make all the difference and think we should consider Eifert bonus money, but with the way Tyler Kroft played last year, that's ok. I'm still interested in the upside of Tyler Boyd in the slot and Josh Malone developing as another speedy deep threat. And I haven't even mentioned Gio Bernard and AJ Green.

Now, if the OL can quickly formulate under new coach Frank Pollack, who might be the biggest addition to this team in 2018, they could really go from putrid in 2017 to flying high in 2018. They've built a highly volatile offense that's going to rely on health & stability of cornerstones and the development of young players. If Eifert, Ross and Cordy Glenn miss a good chunk of the year (it can happen) and Billy Price has rookie struggles while Mixon, Boyd and Malone don't take the next step, that's our nightmare scenario repeating itself. I remember feeling similarly heading into 2015.

The previous year, Eifert and Marvin Jones basically missed the entire season, Gio, Green and Mike Pollack and Marshall Newhouse played much more than we wanted in 2014. That offense found a way to survive and make the playoffs, but the leap they made into 2015 was key. Sure, they luckily found a way to keep EVERYONE healthy in 2015, but we've seen what it looks like when the injury bug is merciless. Here's to hoping for good health and a spread offense in 2018. Joe Goodberry, Niagara Falls, NY

JOE:  Hope you’re well in the land where the Maid of the Mist roams.

No question Lazor has brought elements of Chip Kelly’s spread, particularly the run-pass options and the zone-read runs. But I don’t think that’s going to be the steady diet, or Andy Dalton is going to get killed. There is some worry the defense is going to be out there 85 snaps a game, so I think you’ll see the best of what Kelly had and not the worst. It won’t be as spread or as fast. I’m thinking it’s going to be closer to what Doug Pederson is doing. Maybe a combo of Pederson and Hue Jackson.

By the way, I agree with you. Pollack is the best acquisition of the offseason with veteran left tackle Cordy Glenn and rookie center Billy Price fighting for two and three.

But help me here, Joe. I think I have a cutting edge offense now that we’ve got 190-pound slot corners, 200-pound safeties, 220-pound linebackers and 240-pound ends. Hell, even when defenses go out on first down it looks like the nickel package.

So I would like to introduce Bill Lazor to Ryan Hewitt and Cethan Carter. Mixon goes, what, 225 pounds? Heck, he’s almost as big as a linebacker. Smash it with Mixon. Smash it with Gio. Smash it with Walton. Take the headsets off Eric Bal and smash it. And people will be raving about that creative, new Walsh-like scheme in Cincinnati. We won’t tell them, Joe, it’s just good old-fashioned smash-mouth.

What is your record prediction for the upcoming season? Colin Alcorn, Miamisburg, OH

COLIN: I’m going 10-6.

It has all the scent of a combination of 2009 and 2011. A revived quarterback with a rejuvenated running game, revamped offense and re-shuffled offensive line paired with a veteran defense and an experienced, proven D-coordinator. Plus, they play 14 games at 1 p.m. and we know the prime-time narrative.

The eight games before the bye are brutal, no question. Back-to-back games on the road at play-off teams in Atlanta and Carolina. Another one a few weeks later in Kansas City. Home game against AFC North champ Pittsburgh and the home opener against a Ravens team that was, well, we all know how close they were to the playoffs.

But the Bengals defense has a chance to set a tone. The opener is against the Colts’ new coaching staff and a rusty Andrew Luck. Of the other seven offenses they play before the bye, only three finished higher than 19th last season and one of those, the Chiefs’ Partrick Mahomes,  is a first-year starting quarterback.

What does the franchise need to do to become a place where bonafide starters want to come during Free Agency? Since Free Agency started, the majority of players the Bengals seem to sign are backups elsewhere, brought in to win starting jobs. Upgrade facilities? Just money? What do you think? Alex Jarvis, Westerville, OH

ALEX:  In the last ten years they’ve made a concerted effort to sign their core players to major mega deals and keep their starters. They’ve been pretty up-front about their philosophy. They prefer to re-sign their own starters and fill holes in free agency. They stay away from signing unrestricted free agents so they don't lose draft picks from the free agents they do lose. The major money is pretty much reserved for their own. When you lock up your own guys, it doesn’t get the same headline as a March deal.

Before Marvin arrived they had a tough time drawing free-agents and it was a combination of record, lack of a quarterback, facilities, and money.

But since Marvin’s been the head coach and they moved into Paul Brown Stadium, those factors have been addressed and I think that showed early in Lewis’ tenure. They were able to sign highly-rated free agents like John Thornton, Tory James, and Antwan Odom before they shifted philosophy. In the last decade they’ve pretty much targeted role players and had their pick.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Brandon LaFell, the vet linebacker of the moment, although I think they’d like to keep 25-year-old Preston Brown for a long time. They’ve had no trouble recruiting. Brown may be a hometown guy, but he’s also leaving a team that made the playoffs once in two decades and is coming to a team that’s been there six times since he was a Cincy prep schooler.

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