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Hobson's Choice: No kidding

Q: I'm not sure I'm completely sold on our young secondary. What are the possibilities that a free agent safety like Gibril Wilson or corner Asante Samuel could wind up wearing the orange and black? Or possibly even OSU product Mike Doss, whose contract is up in Minnesota?
--Brandon, Hamilton, OH

BRANDON: Fate? The Bengals very nearly drafted Samuel before they selected Dennis Weathersby with the first pick of the second day in 2003. The 6-2 Weathersby was the big, Leslie Frazier corner they sought. But don't Joseph and Hall take the corner into the next decade?

You'd have to conclude that after the way they played in the second half of the season, Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall are the starting corners for the next five years or so and it's a good thing because you're paying them as such. Besides, with two first-round corners, you can't afford a mega free agent like Samuel at that position.

So what you're looking for is a third corner and really, Deltha O'Neal played well enough in that spot to come back. He doesn't like it. He wants to start someplace else. But he turns 31 at the end of this month and he's scheduled to make $1.6 million in the last year of his deal. He may not do better, and when he left he also left the idea open of coming back.

Clearly they'd like to re-sign Madieu Williams. Good guy. Good player. But they've never dropped a bunch of money at that position and have let guys like Darryl Williams, Sam Shade, Cory Hall and Kevin Kaesviharn leave for bigger paydays.

And the way the rookie safeties played, Chinedum Ndukwe and Marvin White could very well make them do that again. The only way they'd pursue a veteran safety is if they'd decide that Dexter Jackson can't beat out Ndukwe and use his $1.3 million on someone else. But I like Dexter and hope he sticks because I thought he dug down and gave them some leadership down the stretch.

Doss would be interesting as an economical third safety if you think White and Ndukwe are your guys right now.

But they may already have that guy in John Busing, a savvy, reliable, team guy that did it in the last two games. He's got a lot of Kaesviharn's intangibles if they are looking for a veteran's headiness. But Busing has only played in 19 NFL games and they are different types of players. As a former college linebacker, Busing is a better tackler. As a sometimes cornerback, Kaesviharn is better in pass coverage.

Q: Wow, we shook up the defensive coaching staff and needed it to show the team that Marvin is serious about getting the team back on track. However, why didn't we shake up the offensive staff too? I thought the play calling was suspect this year. Your thoughts?
--Carl I., Dallas TX

CARL: After Marvin's "Stale of the Union" speech following the finale, you have to believe he has something that goes beyond coaching changes on offense. Hey, if Graham's field goal bounces the other way against Cleveland and Romeo hands off at the end of the half, the Bengals lose, 14-3, at home to the worst defense in football.

It sure sounded like Lewis was talking about scheme and philosophy on BOTH SIDES of the ball when he raised the idea about throwing out all the game plans of the last five years.

And the way he has pounded the idea about pounding the ball on the ground, it makes you think he's going to emphasize the running game more than usual. Even more than in '04 and '05.

It's a good question. How do you get rid of that "Stale of the Union" feeling if you've got a very entrenched offensive staff? Receivers coach Mike Sheppard is the only one that hasn't been there at least five years.

But this staff has also had a lot of success with these same players. It's not like it's a No. 25 offense starting with a rookie quarterback. Since '05 they've been sixth, eighth, and 10th in the league, so offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and his crew have done it recently and one of the death knells in any program is a lack of continuity.

But Lewis said it. They need something different. They threw the ball like never before and they pass protected like never before, and yet they didn't win. They got yards but not points. They got records but not wins.

So the challenge looks to be to make the game easier for quarterback Carson Palmer, not put everything on his shoulders, get people off him and his receivers with the running game and make the numbers translate to wins.

Bratkowski said as much the day after the season.

"I don't think it has to be drastic. There are some aspects that need to be changed drastically, but not the overall big picture," he said.

"I told them this morning there are things we're going to have to approach differently. And there are things we did this year that we won't do next year. There are things we'll add. But we have to sit back and look at it first. It's too close to the season and you don't want to make decisions emotionally."

And Marvin and Brat didn't sound like the only guys expecting change. Certainly they have to take into consideration that their quarterback has left the building for the offseason talking about change.

Q: Why is Tim Lewis denied an interview for defensive coordinator when it would be a promotion? I thought the NFL had a rule about this?
--Kevin, Cincinnati, OH

KEVIN: There used to be a rule that teams had to give permission to other teams if they were offering a promotion, which this would have been since Lewis is coaching the Panthers secondary. But the rule has been changed so that teams only have to give permission when the job is for head coach.

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