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Hobson's Choice: No Backing Off

Q: To me, running back is the most intriguing position going into training camp. My question is, will the Bengals keep four running backs? If healthy, Rudi is obviously the first option. Perry's versatility makes him invaluable and we all know what Watson brings. Dorsey showed what he can do last year, but if Perry's on the roster when would Dorsey play? Also, Kenny Irons is probably on PUP to start the year. Unless he's not 100 percent, he'll be back this year. Then you definitely have four running backs because last year's second-round pick isn't going anywhere. Just curious about your thoughts on the RBs.
--Drew, Mt. Washington, KY

DREW: Great question. It is The Roster Question. It all depends on the weight and condition of fullback Jeremi Johnson, how special teams shake out, health and, of course, how the guys play.

You'd think the only way they would keep four running backs is if Jeremi doesn't make it. Usually, Jeremi would be the fullback and that would leave room for just three running backs. Yes, you're right. Perry and Dorsey seem to be the same kind of speed-back type guy, but Perry is bigger and could be a bell cow if needed.

In the recent past, they've kept open just six spots among backs (four) and tight ends (two).

If they're fed up once and for all with Jeremi, they could make Daniel Coats the fullback, as well as the third tight end, and keep Rudi, Perry, Watson, Dorsey.

Once upon a time, the Bengals usually kept five running backs and fullbacks, and they may have to go that way again if Jeremi is ready because those four guys just seem so valuable. But that would mean going light at another spot, and it's tough to go with just nine O-linemen or just nine DBs.

Which is what gets you into the special teams discussion at not only back, but at receiver, linebacker, and safety. Backer and safety are huge on special teams, meaning you really have to keep seven backers and 10 DBs, right?

But maybe not, if a guy like Dorsey keeps emerging on special teams. They're going to try him on kickoffs, of which he did some in college (they'd have to teach him returning punts), and last year he blocked the first punt of the decade for a Bengals touchdown.

Would that make Dorsey more valuable than, say, Watson? But Watson's experience and game performance in any situation are impeccable. And its doubtful Perry's injury history lets him return kicks.

Remember, Dorsey is coming into camp slightly questionable with a groin problem, although he's expected to be ready fairly soon. Still, how much do you want to pound him? And you know they want to be careful with Perry, a guy that virtually has never been through a full camp.

A lot of times, roster fights are decided in the training room.

Stay tuned.

Q: I feel by the middle of the season that Andre Caldwell will be the third receiver on this team. I think that he was the steal of the draft. What is your opinion about this?
--Mark E., Cincinnati, OH

MARK: If not the middle of the season, sooner. I'm not sure he's a steal, but he certainly is a sweet pickup in the bargain basement of the third round.

It makes you wonder how the draft works. Here's a guy clearly ahead of fellow draft pick Jerome Simpson when it comes to playing multiple positions, grasping a pro offense, and even running routes.

Yet because of his many physical gifts, Simpson gets drafted a round sooner while Caldwell waits even though it is Caldwell that most likely dresses for the opener while Simpson may very well be inactive.


But, you draft for more than this year. You have to draft big picture, especially when you have two Pro Bowl receivers for at least another year, which would explain the Simpson pick. They figure they can get him NFL ready by '09.

(And if they can't, did you just say David Verser?)

What they get in Caldwell, in a sense, is a guy like Keith Rivers on defense. Almost a veteran-like free agent that can rescue them at third receiver like Rivers looks ready to do at WILL linebacker.

You have to love Caldwell's hitting against Triple A pitching, which is what you really have to call his college career in the pro-like SEC. Throw in his experience in the passing game at Florida, and you figure he can more than help at some point this year.

As we've said ad nauseam, the track records of rookie receivers aren't good and history tells you they don't start to hit stride until about halfway through their second seasons.

But with Ben Utecht expected to escalate the role of the tight end, a competent rookie third receiver might be able to help you just enough with a little help from guys like Antonio Chatman and/or Glenn Holt and Marcus Maxwell.

Don't expect a Chris Henry '05 performance. But remember Kelley Washington's rookie season of 2003? 22 catches for a 13.6-yard average and four TDs?

That wouldn't be bad with Chad, T.J., and Utecht, right?  

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