Hobson's Choice: No move good move

Q: My question is what about the defensive line? The Bengals will have an age issue at defensive tackle soon, with John Thornton, Sam Adams and Bryan Robinson all over 30.

I really wanted the Bengals to spend a high pick on one of the top guys in the draft, like Haloti Ngata (incredible that the Browns were so incredibly STUPID as to let the Ravens get him), but NO!

Sam Adams will help this year and maybe next, but what then?

And why, oh why would the Bengals want to convert to a 3-4? They would need a serious personnel makeover to play a 3-4 on a regular basis. It makes NO sense to me! Or am I missing something here?**--Ricke N., Dayton, OH

RICKE:**
No arguments here on the 3-4 thing, which has me completely baffled, confused, and worthless. It's OK to be a little long in the tooth at defensive tackle, but the Bengals may very well have answered the Ravens with the drafting of Domata Peko in the fourth round.

It's obviously too early to tell anything while these guys are wearing only helmets and shorts. And clearly Peko isn't as big or as highly ranked as Ngata.

But there are people around here who think they've got a solid young player in this kid and he has done nothing at rookie camp to disprove them. At 6-3, 310 pounds, he's low-slung, looks to be excellent at keeping his anchor, and seems to know how to use his hands.

You make a good point with Robinson, Thornton, and Adams, which is a reason they didn't go off and sign Sam right away. But he's proof you don't have to be a spring chicken to play well in the trenches. He turns 33 next month, but he made the Pro Bowl a year ago and was an alternate this past year.

Offensive and defensive linemen are a whole different animal, age wise. In this space several weeks ago it was pointed out that Cowboys D-Tackle La'Roi Glover made the Pro Bowl at 32 last year and just got a mega deal. Falcons tackle Rod Coleman, another Pro Bowler, turns 30 in training camp. Chiefs offensive linemen Willie Roaf and Will Shields made the Pro Bowl again last year at 35 and 34, respectively. For a lot of these guys, their best years are when they can finally marry their experience with their talent.

Plus, there are indications they are going to play Robinson a bit more at left end, which should extend his career. Throw in that Jonathan Fanene (who turned 24 in March) can also play tackle, tackle Shaun Smith turns 25 in August, and Peko is a little younger, some new blood is circulating. But it's doubtful they'll keep five tackles.

That brings us to the 3-4, which apparently isn't going to happen after the Niners swiped Manny Lawson from them on Draft Day.

Maybe that second pass rusher to bookend Pollack would have made the case but, I agree, the personnel right now just doesn't seem to match. Although, you can see it evolving that way.

With the drafting of A.J. Nicholson, it looks like you'll have two solid inside backers at some point. Robinson and Thornton can certainly play end, Peko is built like a 3-4 nose, Adams can play what ever, 4-3 end Justin Smith is a free agent and. . .

But you have to like the fact Lewis didn't jump the gun and try to fit the scheme to the personnel. He's going to let it happen naturally.

Remember 1997? The Bengals 4-3 defense was coming off a decent season in which it finished 12th against the run and came up with 44 turnovers.

New head coach Bruce Coslet did the right thing and hired Dick LeBeau away from the Steelers as his defensive coordinator. But LeBeau opted to bring the 3-4 back to a 4-3 team and drafted that way when they went for Reinard Wilson in the first round.

It turned out Wilson was a college defensive end who couldn't play linebacker and even though the Bengals took two more linebackers in the first round in 1998, they just weren't stout enough up front to stop the run and they moved to a 4-3 in mid 1999.

(Never mind they couldn't zone blitz with rookie corners, but that's another story.)

This is no knock on LeBeau. But it shows you that even a great coordinator is faced with huge problems when you rip up one scheme and try to implement another with the same personnel.

If Lewis is going to a 3-4, he's doing the right thing by waiting on the players and not the other way around.

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