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Hobson's Choice: No end to switch

Q: Was wondering how the transformation of Eric Henderson was going at OLB. In my opinion, he would probably be a better fit for filling Pollack's spot than Rashad Jeanty. Jeanty did a nice job in limited playing time due to injury, but did not have the size or the skills of a Pollack that could be a factor standing up and/or with his hand on the ground. Henderson is closer to what Pollack was in size (263 pounds) while Jeanty didn't hold up well against the run due to being so light (245 pounds). I know Pollack was a freak and a beast with his size and skills to convert to OLB, and has huge shoes to fill. But I would like to see Henderson get a good look at camp and in preseason because I think that he could become a dominant force and playmaker that this D has missed with the absence of Thurman and Pollack last season.
--Eric, Florence, KY

ERIC: It's a long haul, but they liked what they saw out of Henderson last weekend. Don't count out Jeanty. My opinion, but he took to the switch quicker than Pollack because of his 37 CFL games. He did prove to be a heavy hitter and solid against the run, so it should be a heck of a competition.

You've pretty much got the same player in two guys that have mostly played with their hands on the ground and are trying to make the adjustment to playing in space. Neither guy's strong suit is covering the pass and the only way they'll be on the field in the nickel package is as rush ends.

But they are both big physical people even though Henderson plans to lose 10 and play at about 255, and the look they really ought to get this preseason is as pass rushers. See what they get after a season the Bengals finished with 35 sacks, which put them in the middle of the pack with a total bettered by 14 NFL teams.

Both guys can help you because of their versatility. Both have to be penciled in as core special-teamers no matter who ends up starting. You have to give Jeanty the edge because of his four years of pro experience and the fact he's already got one NFL season under his belt as a linebacker.

And you have to like what Henderson told back in March about playing defense for Marvin Lewis. (Now if they can just transfer it from the drawing board to the turf.)

"What Coach understands is he sees athletes he wants to put in position to make a whole bunch of plays rather than being limited to the amount of plays he can make," Henderson said.

Q: Will the Bengals offense still be as dominant as last year with the loss of Chris Henry?
--Jake B., Cincinnati, OH

JAKE: Just look at Carson Palmer's numbers in the 27 regular-season games he's played with Henry and the 18 that he hasn't. His yards per attempt with Henry is 7.8. Without 6.8. Talk about the longest yard.

Now, you could say that the one season that Palmer didn't play with Henry—2004—was Palmer's first as a starter and that the bulk of those numbers (13 of the 18 non-Henry games) weren't going to be as good because of Palmer's inexperience.

But if you take Palmer's yards per attempt in the five games without Henry in 2005 and 2006, the number is still only 7.1, so the Bengals have to find a way to stretch the field without him for eight games.

There are options but they are unknown, such as speed receivers Bennie Brazell and Antonio Chatman, and speed back Chris Perry, who were all injured last season.

Then there is wide receiver Tab Perry, who averaged 16.2 yards on his five catches last season before he got hurt. This is the school of thought that says you could line up a solid, competent receiver out there and Palmer is good enough to find him.

But probably what Henry's loss means is that the running game really has to amp up from 3.7 yards per carry, the fifth-worst average in the NFL last season. With no play-action threat, defenders are going to sag in zones on wide receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

That's why it was so imperative to get a speed back like Auburn's Kenny Irons in the draft. The defense has to account for speed other than Johnson and Houshmandzadeh, and if you've got a team without a Henry combined with a running game that hasn't popped a 40-yard run since November of '04, there is just going to be too much stress on Palmer and his top two wideouts.

Q: It is kind of amazing to me that we have a player like Justin Smith who never but never takes a play off and we can't sign him. What in your opinion would it take to reach a deal?
--Garland S., Dayton, OH

GARLAND: Welcome to the Bengals' conundrum.

Considering that Saints defensive end Charles Grant reportedly received $20 million in guaranteed money and $24 million in the first three years of a seven-year deal just before the draft, you may have to start there.

Grant has played 80 games in five seasons with 298 tackles and 36 sacks. Smith has played in 95 games during six seasons with 524 tackles and 41.5 sacks.

The Bengals aren't quite sure that a solid, relentless, productive player like Smith who has never had a double-digit sack season is worth that kind of franchise money.

But clearly the market does. Not an easy call, so it seems like they're taking another year to figure it out. The irony is by keeping the franchise tag on Smith, it prevented them from getting that prolific sacker, but they must have concluded there weren't any more productive than Smith.

In 2007, young ends like Frostee Rucker or Jonathan Fanene may emerge and they may decide it's time to move on with Smith. Or, they could end up in the same boat with no idea how to replace him.

Q: Soon to be ex-Bengals? Deltha O'Neal. With the signing of Blue Adams and drafting of Hall, White, and Ndukwe and also factor in the Bengals were trying desperately to move him on Day 2 of the draft, his days seem to be numbered. Cap Savings: $2 million. John Thornton, great guy, good in clubhouse, but signed Myers to replace Smith, the impending signing of Kenderick Allen, the drafting of Toeaina, factor that with Thornton's salary. Cap savings $3,125,000 million. Having that cap space would be nice, but who to use it on? (Already 90 players with Odell pending.) Just bank it for future expenses for current salaries in future years?
--Matt, Fort Thomas, KY

MATT: Maybe Deltha was pulling a U-Haul and trying to move himself, but there are no indications that the Bengals went through official channels to trade O'Neal.

At least for now they want him to start because heading into September with nine NFL starts between your starting cornerbacks (Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall) is a lousy way to go into Opening Day for a contender.

Blue Adams could add depth and spice special teams but, remember, he's a few days removed from a tryout in rookie camp and is trying to stick with his fourth team so they're not looking for him to start. We know they're still waiting on Keiwan Ratliff. Greg Brooks has only been healthy enough to play in 16 of 48 games, and Brandon Williams has yet to play in an NFL game. So I don't think O'Neal is expendable.

And Thornton isn't going anywhere. He's very highly thought of by this coaching staff and he's Marvin Lewis' kind of guy.

It's kind of similar to the corner situation.

They see Myers as a rotation guy. Domata Peko looks to be a player but he's only in his second year. Allen (if they sign him) is coming off a foot injury. Toeaina may only be headed to the practice squad. And won't Sam Adams be a question mark until he proves he's healthy?

No, Thornton stays. Lewis is always screaming about needing knee-benders, and Thornton is still a good athlete

And, this was my gripe about cutting Brian Simmons. You can't handle a football depth chart like it's a pure invoice report. Intangibles like being a good guy in the locker room really have value. With Simmons, Kevin Kaesviharn and Tony Stewart gone, you need the Thorntons, the Bryan Robinsons, the Landon Johnsons, the Justin Smiths more than ever.

If there are going to be ex-Bengals, they probably won't be O'Neal and Thornton. At least not now.

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