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Hobson's Choice: Palmer throws must balance

Q: I'm a regular reader and first time writer (because I'm getting so excited about the season!). With the addition of Coles, rededication of Chris Henry and Chad Ochocino, and potential development of Andre Caldwell, what are the chances of four WRs with 40 receptions this year? I watched Quan Cosby play lights out all of last season with a similar QB, Colt McCoy, at UT. He could be a dark horse producer, right? --Drew, Austin, TX*

DREW: Thanks for the shot of adrenaline. The 40-40-40-40 club certainly sounds doable, doesn't it? But it doesn't mean automatic success. The only time in Bengals history four wide receivers caught 40 balls they won just two games. In 2002 Chad Johnson led them with 69 catches while Peter Warrick had 53, Ron Dugans 47, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh 41.

Balance must prevail. If things are working for this offense, tight ends Ben Utecht and Chase Coffman and running back Cedric Benson also better be getting some balls.

In '05 when Carson Palmer had this offense buzzing, running back Chris Perry was the third leading receiver behind Johnson and Houshmandzadeh and the No. 3 wide receiver, Henry, had just 31 catches. The 4 by 40 club would be interesting, but it may be bad news, too.

Cosby looks to be a long shot from the line of scrimmage because of his lack of height and downfield wheels. Tremendous kid with a big heart, but it looks like the only way he sticks is as a punt returner. If he's not that much more effective than wide receiver Antonio Chatman in the return game, the bet is they keep Chatman because of his experience from scrimmage and maybe they can get Cosby to the practice squad. There are those who think Henry and Chatman were the two best receivers out there in the spring.

But if Cosby pops some punts in the preseason…

Q: Is this guy Michael Johnson a real person? He sounds almost too good to be true. Every mom and dad in the area is going to be sending him a proposal.
--Garland S., Dayton, OH

GARLAND: Yes, Michael Johnson is real. But he's supposed to be. Why the big surprise? The NFL is no different from a corporate office, a loading dock, or a teachers lounge. Most guys are good people and like most good people, you don't hear about them.

Walk out of your house and there are Mike Johnsons a couple of hundred yards in all directions. They just don't play in the NFL. Here's a guy raised by his mother and father to do well in school first and he responded by being valedictorian in his class and graduating from Georgia Tech. It happens every day. I guess the sad thing now is that when a pro athlete does it, it's not seen as real.

Q: I just finished the article about Isaac Curtis. When I think about the old days, I think of the gorgeous bombs between Kenny and Isaac. And, reading that about him again reminded me of three what if questions. *

1-Back in the era of the "Steel Curtain," we went away to play the Steelers late in the season one year when it turned into a snow bowl. We were within one game of them but due to the field conditions they eked out a 7-3 win. I wondered, what if that game had been played in weather good enough to allow Kenny and Isaac to have a good passing day? How many rings would the Steelers have ended up with? 2-Seven running plays in a row during the first Super Bowl without a touchdown or Tim Krumrie's broken leg in the second Super Bowl. What if the Bengals had won either of those? How many rings would the 49ers have?3-The unbelievable turn of events in the playoffs in 2005 when Carson went down. What if he didn't get injured? I don't think he would have had the "deer-in-the-headlights" look that Kitna showed in the second half. *

There are many more. Like what if Coach Gregg stayed in Cincy? Or, what if the USFL hadn't signed Collinsworth? Or, what if about 10 former first-round picks didn't become busts or injured or busted? I would love to hear your thoughts on any of these. *
--Tim J., Clarksville, TN

TIM: Everyone in Bengaldom, owners, coaches, players, have played the What If game. Your questions are at the heart of the franchise and well-placed. Cris Collinsworth said just a few weeks ago that the Niners very easily could have won only three Super Bowls and the Bengals two.

(By the way, Collinsworth signed with the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits in 1983 but never played a snap for them and never missed a season with the Bengals. Good memory, though, because a lot of people forget they could have lost him before they signed him to a long-term deal.)

Here are three more What Ifs of about a million:

1. If Greg Cook didn't get hurt after his AFL Rookie of the Year season in 1969, does he indeed become what Bill Walsh said he would become and emerge as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever? Would that have made Cook the Joe Montana of the '70s and the Bengals the team of the '70s while Pittsburgh fans would be left to say Terry Bradshaw deserves to join Cook in the Hall of Fame even though he didn't win a ring?

2. If cornerback Lewis Billups didn't drop the potential interception in Super Bowl XXIII, the Bengals are champs. Does that mean that team stays together longer rather than imploding in 1991 at 3-13? If they win the Super Bowl, you've got to believe Sam Wyche and Boomer Esiason are still here into at least the mid 1990s and maybe longer and they never stumble into the David Shula-David Klingler moat.

3. If Justin Smith isn't called for a very suspect roughing the passer penalty in the last minute in Tampa Bay, if the Bengals stop the Chargers just once in the second half of a game they led, 28-7 at half, if Shayne Graham doesn't miss a 39-yard field goal at the end of the finale against the Steelers, the Bengals make the 2006 playoffs. And the last two years are completely different from a confidence standpoint internally and a perception standpoint externally.

 In 2007 and 2008, there wouldn't have been that crushing weight of underachievement that clearly affected their play and shook the fan base.

But, you know what Tim? I think every team everywhere has all these nooks and crannies of heartbreak.

I've got five decades worth in my favorite baseball team, starting with how many pennants would the Red Sox have won if Tony Conigliaro didn't get beaned and Jim Lonborg didn't go skiing?

What if Lou Piniella wasn't so lucky in the '78 playoff game when the sun blinded him and Jerry Remy's liner is still rattling around the right-field corner with Rick Burleson cavorting about the bases with the tying run in the ninth of the AL East playoff game?

What if McNamara had done what he did in Game 1 and put Dave Stapleton at first base in the 10th inning of Game 6 in '86?

Even before I was born…

The Sox had first dibs on Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, but their insidious racism that haunted them until the '90s cost them a Jackie-Ted Williams dynasty in the '50s and a Yaz-Mays dynasty in the '60s.

What If?

Q: How is Roy Williams getting so many snaps during minicamp? *

Is Chinedum Ndukwe that bad? Roy Williams hasn't played good football since 2005. He is a liability in coverage. I watch every Cowboys game since 2005. So I know what type of player he is. Do you know how much he weighs right now? Or what the coaches want his playing weight to be? I would just rather see a playmaker like Ndukwe on the field rather than a player that offenses will target. *

Please don't say that Williams and Zimmer reuniting will rejuvenate his career. Because I was just watching the Cowboys vs. Seahawks playoff game from 2006. And Zimmer was the DC and Williams was getting killed in coverage. He gave up two touchdowns to TE Jeremy Stevens. I just see him as a weak link if he starts for the Bengals in 2009.*
--Joe G.,  Niagara Falls, NY

JOE: Williams and Zimmer reuniting will rejuvenate Williams' career.

Really, what's wrong with that concept? It happened to Rodney Harrison in New England, Kerry Collins in Tennessee, Plaxico Burress in New York. It happens.

Look, we all like Ndukwe. He's not bad. He's good. His two seasons have been marked by some big plays. Just because Williams got a lot of snaps in the spring doesn't mean he will in August.

But the fact is that the coaches felt Williams looked good enough to merit those snaps. On the last day of practice in June he weighed 226 pounds and they want him in the low 220s on July 30 and that weight corresponded to what the coaches felt was solid play in coverage as he learned the new scheme.

That doesn't mean Ndukwe is going to get iced. Zimmer has talked about a three-safety package and Ndukwe and Williams have different strengths. No, Williams isn't a corner out there but the Bengals insist he's not as bad in coverage as the scuttlebutt has it. Maybe Stevens chewed him up, but the Bengals can pull out tapes of him picking off guys like Donovan McNabb and Eli Manning to win games.

It's tough to toss off a guy like Williams in a breakdown with Ndukwe. Say what you will, but Williams has gone to five Pro Bowls and was the eighth pick in the country. If the coach that drafted him thinks he can still play, I think you give a guy like Zimmer the benefit of doubt.

I don't see Ndukwe sitting for long periods or Zimmer exposing Williams to situations he can't handle. It would seem the two can co-exist in what Zimmer is trying to do.

The first time Heath Miller scorches him, then unload the venom when ready.

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