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Hobson's Choice: No defense until Saturday, please

Q: Everywhere you look or read now, people around the league are saying the biggest need for the Bengals is wideout. I have never played a down of football in my life (most of them have not either) but I think he biggest needs are safety and a pass rushing DT. The Bengals pick at a good spot where there should be Taylor Mays and or the Thomas kid from Texas. Please tell me that if one or both of them is available that we will grab one. I truly believe that either one could have a Rey Maualuga-like impact.
--*Kenny M., Bluefield, WVA

KENNY: Can't agree with you on this one. Their franchise quarterback just turned 30 years old without a playoff victory and he's withering on the vine without weapons. All this "Carson Is Done" talk is absolutely ridiculous. They've got a top five quarterback when it comes to his arm, his physical tools, experience and his track record, but they've got to get him some help.

They don't have a guy that can stretch the field, they don't have a consistent slot receiver, and their best receiver just turned 32. Plus, their only tight end under contract, Chase Coffman, is a medical mystery. So if they don't take a receiver at No. 21, it has to be a tight end. They shouldn't think defense until Saturday and the fourth round.

Sure, they could use a pass-rushing defensive end, no question. But these guys can't score. You've got to average 23 to 24 points a game to be a factor and getting them to 20 is like listening to fingernails drag across a chalkboard. You know they can play top five defense with what they've got, particularly if they add some offense and get some people healthy.

They could ignore the tight end issue as long as they had wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the middle of the field gobbling up every third-down throw over the middle for an offense that lived on three-receiver sets. But those days are long gone and they desperately need a young tight end that can both catch and block. They may not be able to wait beyond No. 21 to get him.

You can make an argument for safety, but not in the first round. And, yes, they need the pass rusher at end. But you've got to have priorities and their playoff run died because they couldn't throw it, not because they couldn't stop it.

Q: Really? Pacman Jones and Matt Jones? The Bengals have worked so hard, both on and off the field, to re-establish some sense of respectability and now they're looking at these two guys? I understand the need to get a fast receiver to spread the field, but there have to be other options. And with Pacman, I understand the "low-risk, high-reward" argument, but is it worth the potential damage to the image of the team when this guy has his inevitable next "incident?"  Last season we took a big step forward. If they sign these two that's two steps back.
--*John, Lexington, KY

JOHN: Tend to agree with you as the news comes in that former Jaguars receiver Matt Jones is going to sign with the Bengals, but to be fair to him and to the team you have to wait to make that call.

And this is no shot on Jones. From what the Bengals could gather, he's a guy that is sincerely sorry for screwing up and they were impressed with his depth of knowledge about not only football, but the impact of his misdeeds. They also talked to some Jags people that believe while he's a very talented guy who is a good kid, they always wondered about his commitment to the game and his self-discipline. But if he gets it, they told them, the Bengals may have something.

What bothers me are three things when compounded with the Pacman workout:

First, you know you're going to take a PR jolt and in this economy, why make it harder to sell tickets? Second, you're courting distractions and focus once the season begins. Make that when the offseason begins. What do you think is going to be the topic in the locker room in the media session after the first workout on March 29? And third, there are some guys in free agency that at least played last year, aren't as risky, and have been as productive, if not more, and can't be all that more expensive.

But to be fair to the club, I also felt the same way when they signed Cedric Benson and Chris Henry and I'm sure so did an electoral map of Bengaldom. But we were wrong. Gore Wins Florida wrong.

Henry and Benson taught us not to be judgmental and not to form an opinion based on headlines and sound bites and that's what we really ought to do here.

The problem is perception is based on emotion and momentum and nothing more substantial than that. If they had just signed Matt Jones, there wouldn't be the outrage, and I bet with the Benson and Henry experiences under their belt, it wouldn't have been seen as that unpopular of a move.

But Pacman is the hot button. He's the fuel on the fire. He's Chris Henry, pre-2008. Just touch him, never mind sign him, and he's radioactive, and Matt Jones got scalded with him.

The other thing at play is the criminal Bengals perception that just hasn't fit since 2006 even though it continues to be pounded like it is current affairs. Oh yeah, it was a bad year. But in the other six seasons since 2002, the Bengals believe they have been below the league average when it comes to legal incidents. They're finding out a bad year can last a decade in the perception game.

Another tough thing is it came at the end of a week when Bengals players Domata Peko, Jon Fanene and Rey Maualuga are being celebrated in their homeland of American Samoa for their generosity and commitment to their countrymen, and a workout shouldn't tarnish that. But for the day it will because that's the world we live in, fair or unfair.

The leadership of Marvin Lewis has generated a locker room that is very involved and dedicated in the community, but that always seems to get lost whenever there is a day like this one.

To again be fair to the team, they are practicing due diligence in trying to find the best players And one of the reasons it worked with Benson and Henry is the inner strength of the locker room. Matt Jones may be added to the list to the projects that worked, but that locker room always has to be taken into consideration. And, unfortunately in this day and age, so does perception, even if to a minor degreee.

Is the risk worth the gamble?

If there is a right answer, let me know. It sounds more like the last question on a philosophy mid-term than anything else.

Q: Can you fill me in on the status and progress of Jason Shirley as an offensive guard? With the question of Bobbie Williams' contract for next year, is it possible that Shirley can progress enough to replace him? --*Bill, Ft. Myers, FL

BILL:They saw some potential in Shirley, but you're talking about a guy that just hasn't played the position very much since switching over from defensive tackle in the last training camp. If they decide they have to replace Williams, Shirley wouldn't be the Opening Day right guard. He just doesn't have the experience yet. They like his strength, but he's a name to keep an eye on down the road and not one to start filling in depth charts right now.

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