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Hobson's Choice: Perry takes stage

Q: Can you explain why Chris Perry is still with the Bengals after only 22 games in four years? What is the fascination with a player that never plays because of injury? When will Marvin move on from this bad pick?
--Who Dey Delight, Crestview Hills, Ky.

WHO DEY: Talent. Potential. Money. The same reasons your company, or my kids' colleges, or your brother-in-law's outfit keeps people around even if they don't have the bottom line you envisioned.

You'd have to agree that Perry played well enough in his one healthy season to be considered a difference-maker. No doubt it hasn't been unanimous inside to keep him around, but it's not a clear-cut decision, either, and why not err on the side of caution if he can give you what he gave you in '05? You've already invested about $5-6 million in guaranteed money in him, first-round picks don't grow on trees, and he hasn't hogged a roster spot in the past two years because he's been on more lists than George Clooney.

They already made a move away from Perry when they took Kenny Irons in the second round of the '07 draft and Irons missing the whole year with an ACL injury has as much to do with Perry still being here as anything else.

But now that DeDe Dorsey has clearly proven himself, you have to believe this is Perry's last call. He has looked good enough in offseason workouts that they didn't draft a running back, so it looks to be now or never.

One of the reasons the Shaun Alexander talks appear to be on the backburner could be the Bengals are waiting to see how Perry looks in the next few weeks.

Q: What do you think will improve the team's defense?
--Daniel C., Marysville, KY

DANIEL: That's the biggest question facing them right now. One thing is for sure against this schedule: If the defense doesn't improve, wait 'till next year.

They have to be banking on the addition of promising youngsters that make their front seven more athletic, an emerging and more seasoned secondary, and the infusion of new blood in defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald.

This isn't passing judgment on former defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan and ex-linebackers coach Ricky Hunley because both men can coach. But a fresh start is needed for a unit that has finished 27th or lower in four of head coach Marvin Lewis' five seasons.

They still don't have a gamebreaker. But they did improve their talent.

First-round pick Keith Rivers at WILL linebacker and third-round pick Patrick Sims at defensive tackle look to be badly-needed upgrades from last season. If Sims turns out to be as reliable as they think Rivers is going to be, it was a hell of a draft. If he isn't, people will look at him and see Sedrick Ellis like they look at Chris Perry and see Steven Jackson.

The acquisition of the Titans' Antwan Odom gives them one of the top two or three defensive ends available in free agency. He doesn't play the run like the departed Justin Smith, but he gives them some natural pass rush skills that they didn't have last season when they finished last in the NFL in sacks per pass.

To me, the answer lies in the linebackers. Eight different middle linebackers have started for Lewis in his five seasons because of suspensions and injuries. You can't have that and be successful against the run.

Even if Odell Thurman isn't the answer, they need to get some kind of stability from someone, and they need to find out if Ahmad Brooks can play. Anywhere. Middle. SAM. But they need an answer.

They went after their weaknesses with Odom and the draft and they are trying the fresh approach with Zimmer. Yeah, they're improved. But to what degree against a schedule top heavy with playoff teams?

Q: The only question that should be on everyone's mind is why T.J. has not been signed to an extension? Also, why was it not done last year when now that he is a Pro Bowler, almost a league leader, and confident now more dollars because of what he had done. WHY was he not signed last year?
--Kevin L., Grove City, PA

KEVIN: The same questions were being asked about tackles Willie Anderson and Levi Jones at this time in '06, and both ended up signing extensions before the season, so it's too early to panic.

I'm with you. I've been saying forever that sooner rather than later is cheaper. You know you're going to need this guy. Who cares if you sign him two years or one year before the deal is up?

But, to be fair to the club, they've got a touchy situation with Chad on the other side and how much he makes. It's not as easy as it sounds. Plus, they may have some more salary cap room after making some moves before and during training camp.

Interesting about those Anderson and Jones deals. Some people said they shouldn't have been made because of Anderson's age and Jones' knees, and the critics have had a field day the past two years with both missing significant time because of injury.

Houshmandzadeh turns 31 in September, an age when most receivers are past their prime. But you don't hear the same kind of caution some people had with Anderson and Jones when it comes to T.J.

Good. T.J. certainly looks like he has at least two to three Pro Bowlish years left. I think they should have pulled the trigger on the linemen and they will on Houshmandzadeh. You've got to go on track record, not a crystal ball or Ouija board.

All three are tough, passionate and top-echelon players who have been the cornerstones of what they do here.

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