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Hobson's Choice: Shirley a good move?

Q: Can you expand on the Jason Shirley switch from defensive tackle to guard? I was really looking forward to seeing him clog the middle and become the next Haynesworth. Does this have anything to do with the plethora of DTs we have accumulated and the Bengals wanting to keep a big man in house? Or do they see him developing into the next Bobbie Williams?
--Tim S., Missoula, MT

TIM: My gut is that your first take is right. They've got too many young defensive tackles they think can play. As we've said, they really like Clinton McDonald, the seventh-rounder from Memphis. They also like the Cincinnati kid from Central State via Taft High, Pernell Phillips, a guy to watch for the practice squad.

Meanwhile, Shirley doesn't seem to have moved past the project stage. He only played three games last year. I don't think they think he's the next Bobbie Williams. They're trying to find out what he is. You can't develop size, so why not try it out? But I would think it would be a practice squad thing because there are too many experienced guards ahead of him.

It sounds like you're like me. I like the move because size and/or speed is what it's all about. At least give it a shot and they are.



Q: I have two questions, one for the offensive side, one for the defense. We haven't heard much about Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph, which I'm assuming is a good thing. Though the position lacks depth, are the starting corners much improved as the rest of the defense seems to be? And on the offensive side, can Anthony Collins handle being the full time right tackle with Smith out? It seems that Collins may be a better choice to start the season due to his experience last year and Smith missing most of training camp. Your thoughts are much appreciated.*
--Jonathan P., Burlington, KY

Jonathan: I was talking to a guy with the team earlier this week who thought Hall had been the best player in camp and that Joseph wasn't too far behind. They're solid and, you're right, no news is good news, but maybe it's time we catch up with them.

Collins is an interesting guy. When he was at Kansas, he got talked about at least as much as Jason Smith. He came into the draft early and went in the fourth round. Smith stayed in school and was the No. 2 pick in the draft this year. You've got to think Collins would have been in the discussion this year with those top group of tackles.

So the Bengals are looking at a future tackle tandem of Collins-Smith that on paper could be considered both top 10 guys. Throw in Andrew Whitworth as a potential Pro Bowl left guard and they've got something.

But is Collins better than Smith right now? Now he is because he's been here. If Collins plays right tackle like he played left tackle – competently, athletically - he'd probably have a pretty good season over there. There would be mistakes, but there would also be plays.

Better than Smith? Who knows?

Yet that doesn't mean they want to drag their feet on signing Smith. Daydreaming about Whitworth playing next to Smith at left guard some day in the future takes up some time.



Q: Do the Bengals really need to look to free agents to fill the holes at tight end? It has always seemed to me that many TEs and FBs are swappable (for example Coats). With the solid competition among the FBs right now, couldn't they have someone already on the team shift over to the TE spot?*--Sean C., Tucson, AZ

SEAN: Coats proved it's not an automatic swap. He really struggled moving from tight end to fullback last year and it was a factor in them not being able to protect the passer. That may be a reason they don't think they've got an interchangeable guy at fullback right now.

But the one answer is to keep two fullbacks along with three tight ends. So, yeah, I think they've got to go get a blocking tight end if Utecht isn't coming back this season. Coats is your No. 1, Chase Coffman can catch and is your move guy, which is kind of what Matt Sherry is. I'm thinking their third tight end isn't here yet if Utecht is out.



Q: I understand the optimism for this recharged Bengals team and I am on board. But I still am worried about the unproven offensive line. With little experience, can you please, please reassure me that this line has what it takes to protect Carson and get a running game going? What do the coaches see? THEY ARE THE KEY TO A GOOD SEASON!
*--Aaron B., Huntington,  W. VA

AARON: Nope. If offensive line coach Paul Alexander doesn't know, who does? Alexander felt better after Friday's scrimmage, but before that he admitted he didn't know what he was going to see.

And that's what is going to be in store early on. When you've got two guys who are starting at positions they never played before in the NFL (center and right tackle) and a left guard that's made six NFL starts, you have no idea what you're going to get. If it works, it's called a transition year. If it blows up, everybody and everything starts from scratch.

The coaches think they're better at center and will have the upgrade of a healthy veteran left tackle in Whitworth. They also think Collins is maturing at right tackle and has a chance to be a very good player. Talking to them they seem to think they are tougher and have been together longer than the guys last season. Like us, they'll find out the rest.

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