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Hobson's Choice: O-line takes shape

Q: You said, "A theme of the bye week is going to be how surprisingly well the offensive line has played." I for one am not surprised. I mean everyone wanted more because we all thought there were better players to be had, but Alexander knew before any of us knew. I told everyone, especially on the message board, that we have one of the best offensive line coaches in the league. Is it finally time for every Bengals fan to acknowledge that we have been greatful of Alexander's body of work here? One of the bright spots even going back to our ugliest days.  I for one am proud of Alexander's leadership and poise to get this year's line ready for great things. Remind me again, how many first day picks do we have on that line?
--Brandon, Fairfield, OH

BRANDON: No NFL position coach has a lot of first-round picks. Success in the NFL at every spot is molding college free agents like Dennis Roland and Kyle Cook and retreads like Evan Mathis. That's why it's a coach's league.  That's a requirement of the job and Alexander has filled it admirably and has done it for a long time. Alex Marvez, an NFL scribe for, said Thursday that Alexander should be NFL Assistant of the Year.

The '05 line had two No. 1 picks at tackle, a 1A pick in left guard Eric Steinbach and two guys drafted by other organizations in the second round (right guard Bobbie Williams) and third round (center Rich Braham). And yet the current line, with Williams, two college free agents, a third-rounder in Evan Mathis (via Carolina) and second-rounder Andrew Whitworth, has got to 5-2 just like those guys AND done them even one better by producing the NFL rushing leader.

No question it is a tribute to Alexander and assistant Bob Surace. You're in the minority, though, so pat yourself on the back because even Alexander himself is saying it is a surprise. In a conversation with on Thursday, head coach Marvin Lewis also said the two biggest surprises to him are the offensive and defensive lines. 

Alexander is following in a long line of brilliance. One of the five greatest offensive lines of all time, the Bengals in the late 1980s, had one just No. 1 pick, Anthony Muñoz. The other tackle, Joe Walter, was a seventh-rounder in 1985, guard Bruce Reimers and center Bruce Kozerski arrived back-to-back in the eighth and nine rounds in 1984, and the other guard, Max Montoya, was a seventh-rounder before any of them showed up in 1979. That architect, Jim McNally, is now retired, but he counts Alexander as one of his disciples and you can bet they've talked about the '09 crew a little bit.

Q: Can someone explain to me why we aren't playing Chris Henry more? He can catch any crazy thing Carson Palmer can throw when he gets in a pinch. He is like superfingers, he can reach in the middle of three opponents and come up with the ball and hold onto it. I keep asking that every game and I don't see him in there. I am sure there must be a good reason, but no one seems to have an answer and everyone seems to feel the same way.
--Karen G., Mason, OH

KAREN: Catch my conversation with Lewis from Thursday. I asked him if he's not playing Henry because he didn't want him back last year, and he politely reminded me that he wasn't signed until Henry met with him in a secret session at training camp about a week before they re-signed him. He also said he's playing about 60 percent of the snaps, which he considers a lot, and that he doesn't see him playing much more than that. He also hinted that Henry has been slowed by a tender quad and again pointed out his desire for his receivers to be well-rounded at blocking and running the proper routes.

Lewis has made it clear why Laveranues Coles is starting opposite The Ocho. He says "he makes the other guys around him better" when it comes to stuff like that. So that's where it is and it doesn't sound like it's changing any time soon, but, let's face it, if Palmer can get the ball to Henry, he will, even if it is 60 percent of the time.

Q: With all indications pointing to next season being an uncapped year, what effect will that have on the Bengals this offseason in terms of re-signing players, signing free agents, the draft, etc.?
--Justin H., St. Louis, MO

JUSTIN: Remains to be seen but it shouldn't be a big impact either way. They'll get a break if there is no cap in the sense that free agents under the old system, such as Henry, Frostee Rucker, Rashad Jeanty and Brandon Johnson will be restricted free agents because you can only be an unrestricted free agent with no cap with six years in the league and those guys are going to have five or less. The big question is, of course, Henry.

Kicker Shayne Graham is the franchise player, so he'll be a free agent again, but the Bengals could designate him one last time in 2010 and it wouldn't be that much of a jump from the current $2.5 million. And if there is no cap, they'll be able to tag two guys instead of just one.

Except for Henry and Graham, there aren't any looming big names headed to market, but they'll no doubt look into extending several guys after the season. If Lewis has a new-look team, management has a new-look salary structure.

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