Hobson's Choice: Nothing but defense, please

Q: With all of the focus seeming to be defensively for the Bengals, how important do you believe it is for the Bengals to draft a tight end that's capable of stretching the field or a running back like Chris Perry who doesn't have Perry's ability to get injured? Or should the Bengals solely focus on drafting defense?
**--Zachary, Columbus, OH

ZACHARY:** If they don't take defense in each of the first two rounds (an animal middle backer, a werewolf pass rusher, a young Sam Adams, you name it), they should get mentally checked. Especially since they don't have a third-round pick, courtesy of supplemental pick Ahmad Brooks.

Look at what they've paid the offense and what they've paid the defense and that should tell you they need to shore up the personnel on defense.

And, I'm sorry, but I've bought into Marvin's thing about not having enough footballs to go around for a down-the-field tight end. I just don't think lacking that one piece is one of the top five reasons that kept the Bengals out of the playoffs. If you draft a stud, which of the three wide receivers is going to take a seat on third down?

(Remember, that's the down you really have to protect Carson with guys that can block. So if you go with three wides and your pass-catching tight end, that leaves you with five offensive linemen, the quarterback and a running back. He's going to get killed doing a steady diet of that.)

Plus, a healthy Tab Perry at wide receiver and Chris Perry at running back make up for that pass catcher over the middle because they can line up in so any different places.

The first draft pick devoted to offense should be in the second day and on a speedy running back capable of scoring from anywhere on the field via the run or pass. That's if they don't think Perry is going to be healthy because he has proven he can do that. That is the one thing they need on offense more than anything.

Look, I'd love the next Todd Heap or Jason Witten. But this offense can win the Super Bowl the way it is. I'm not so sure you can say that about the defense, whether it's a scheme or talent question and I think it's a little of both.

Q: OK, lets face it. Our biggest flaw on the defensive side of the football is the fact that we don't have that one guy in our front seven that can get to the quarterback, has that swagger, and brings that fire out of everyone to just want to knock somebody's head off. I think Dexter Jackson could be that guy, but he needs help from another leader in the front seven.

Which brings me to the question. Do you think Marvin, somewhere deep down, believes that Odell Thurman is that guy? And if not, why don't we ever pay the big money to a player in free agency with those type of credentials? In my opinion, we are one player and 10 sacks away from a Super Bowl.
**--Jeremy J., Dayton, OH

JEREMY J:** Well said. They need a linebacker with the brains of Brian Simmons welded to the nastiness of Dexter on top of Thurman's body. Lewis may believe Thurman is that guy, but the fact that Marvin and half his coaches can't get themselves to say his name tells me they're going to be looking for someone else.

Don't get me wrong. I still think Thurman ends up wearing No. 51 again. (They doth protest too much.) But they don't know what they're going to get when he shows up next season, so they have to act like he doesn't exist in order to replace him.

A guy who has that potential to be the crazy brute in the middle is Ahmad Brooks, who had a late start to his rookie year last year because he was taken in the supplemental draft.

The coaches weren't really enamored with his inexperience or his lack of focus at times, but the kid looks like he can play and they know it looks like he can play and you would think he'll have to get a very real shot because who do they have that physically compares?

As for why they never pay a defensive stud like that, they never pay an offensive stud like that, either, in free agency.

What they do is put down big money on their own players who produce and it says something that they have given those deals almost exclusively to offense.

They were prepared to give the kind of deal you're talking about to linebacker Takeo Spikes in 2003 when management would have been more than happy to match the Bills offer.

But Spikes didn't think Lewis would be allowed to deliver the goods and Lewis didn't think Spikes would be a fit in his new day. Both have admitted since they were wrong, making it one of the top five Bengals 'What Ifs' of all time.

OK. Let's face it.

It's an offensive franchise. It was founded by one of the greatest offensive minds of all time in Paul Brown and the philosophy has stayed pretty much intact. The hot stove fear about the defense that is being written in January of 2007 are the same fears from January of 2006, January of 1976, January of 1986, and January of 1996.

But Bengals president Mike Brown knows he needs defense to win it all. It was a major reason he hired Lewis, the resident defensive guru of his day, and they're still waiting on that to translate.

Q: Isn't there anything the Bengals can do to keep their assistants from leaving? Or is that just the nature of the game?
**--Greg, Cincinnati, OH

GREG:** It's a little of both. By rule, the only job a team has to allow an assistant coach to pursue is a head coaching job. The Bengals could have denied the Panthers permission to interview quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese and the Falcons permission to interview former wide receivers coach Hue Jackson since it's for an offensive coordinator job. But what does that do but embitter the employee?

They could entice Zampese to stay with more money or a bigger title, but someone here already has the title he wants and that's something money can't buy. So how can you blame Zampese for wanting the shot or the Bengals for letting him take it? The NFL is a small place.

It's pretty much the nature of the league, although Mike Brown seems to give his coaches a freer reign to explore than most. For instance, there are published reports that the Steelers have given Arizona permission to interview special teams coach Kevin Spencer, but denied a request to interview receivers coach Bruce Arians and linebackers coach Keith Butler.

There is a caveat, though. Brown's philosophy with an assistant has always been, "If you're looking, we're looking," so don't be surprised if the Bengals are still shopping for a receivers coach in case Zampese gets the job and they move new receivers coach Mike Sheppard to quarterbacks.

And the Bengals would most likely put their foot down if a division rival came knocking. That's not going to happen. I would imagine they would never have let Jackson or Zampese interview in Cleveland, for instance, for X-and-O reasons.

And with the relationship Brown has with Steelers owner Dan Rooney, it's highly unlikely they would even try to take another coach from each other.

It was different with Dick LeBeau. He was looking for a job each time he made the moves with each club.

I note that Cam Cameron has been offered the head job with the Dolphins. His best friend in the business is Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander, but I doubt Brown is going to allow his 13-year offensive line coach to leave if it ever came up.

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