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Hobson's Choice: Something's Cookin

Q: With all the discussion about drafting a center and the importance of the position, how has the center position ranked so far this season? I assume that Cook has been part of the story with the establishment of a running game, but I'm not astute enough to know how important. 
--Michael J. Ithaca, N.Y.*

MICHAEL: Always great to hear from the land of Cornell, where some great friends of reside, as well as the home of Ithaca College, which houses the archives of the greatest television writer of all-time in Rod Serling.

The offensive line was supposed to be The Twilight Zone for the Bengals this season, but Cook is a big reason why it is keeping Carson Palmer clean as well as churning out the magic 4.4 yards per carry. They've run the ball against those teams with the big nose tackles - Rodgers in Cleveland, Hampton in Pittsburgh, Ngata in Baltimore - which they really haven't been able to do since Rich Braham played center. Cook is proving he's strong enough to handle those big guys over him.

We'll get an idea how agile he is Sunday against the Texans when they play their first true middle linebacker in DeMeco Ryans. Now he'll have to get out to the second level and take on a pretty athletic guy, which they think he can. Cook may not be as fluid in space as his predecessor Eric Ghiacuic, but he's looked pretty active getting out in front on some sweeps.

But what they really like about Cook is his demeanor and smarts. He's a no B.S. guy that studies and knows where everybody is and has no problems communicating it.

Q: This team, and especially defense, has been so exciting to watch. Johnathan Joseph has been spectacular with various important interceptions. I haven't seen much from Leon Hall and am wondering if he is doing an even better job blanketing WRs. Is he a large part of why the top receiver on each team is getting only one if any catches?
--Jacob S., Sacramento, CA

JACOB: Since Joseph and Hall stay on their sides and don't move around to match up with individual guys, it's fair to say Hall has been just as much of a factor in what they've done to opposing receivers. You know what they say about the best defenders usually not getting a lot of interceptions because teams don't throw at them. They consider Hall to be their most consistent guy down-to-down at that position when it comes to technique and assignments.

But that's no knock on Joseph. The guy has been outstanding, and teams may start looking away from him now after his three picks in three weeks and Hall could get some more chances. You're right. All three of his interceptions came at such huge points in the game and positions on the field. So is J-Joe your defensive MVP and running back Cedric Benson Offensive MVP? That's how I'm leaning after five games.

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