Hobson's Choice: Starters And Non-Starters As Bengals Mull The Cutting Edge

Jonah Williams: one of the big questions.
Jonah Williams: one of the big questions.

Hey, Geoff as you know. I'm a big fan, thanks for what you do. Curious about the roster breakdown? Will they go heavy at WR? So many talented players at that spot. Do you expect them to be active on the waiver wire after final cuts? Maan Aboulhosn, Titusville

MAAN: Always great to hear from my main Maan and many thanks. Hope the family is safe and sound. With that No. 1 waiver claim, I expect them to be quite active after Saturday's cut down. Maybe as many as three players could be claimed and on the Opening Day roster. Maybe one or two could even be active for the opener.

Not a starter or anything like that. More like a last guy at a position thing if they deem him simply an upgrade. And that could be anywhere. A big-body nose tackle would appear to be on the wish list, but they don't grow on trees.

Plus, as eagle-eyed Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham has noticed, newcomer Amani Bledsoe, listed as an end, has looked good in the 10 days or so he's been here getting some work inside. He's only 280 pounds, but he came highly recommended to the Bengals coaches off his stint on the Titans practice squad all of last season.

The one thing that makes it tough is there is no recent tape on any of these guys because there have been no pre-season games. So they may be more inclined to stick with a guy they've had all camp rather than go to the waivers if the upgrade isn't big enough to justify the move on someone unseen.

But, they've also got a good handle on the rookies on the wire because they've just scouted them all.

I agree with you about the talent at wide receiver and this is a year they have to go heavy with seven, I would think. Not only because Mike Thomas has earned it with a great camp and his special teams resume and not only because Alex Erickson as such a valuable returner, but also because A.J. Green and John Ross III are coming off injury-plagued stretches of more than a year.

The problem is, if you figure seven receivers, that makes you light at two other spots, not just one. Because if you go three quarterbacks, nine offensive linemen, four running backs and four tight ends, that is 27 offensive players when it is traditionally 25. So do those two spots come from running back and tight end? With Covid-19, you have to protect three quarterbacks and you can't go light on the O-line.

But … you can protect four players on the practice squad each week and when players are promoted from the squad to the active roster they won't be exposed to waivers, so maybe you can only can keep two quarterbacks.

Thanks for all of the reporting and insight. With the craziest off season I can remember coming to an end (thankfully). which linebackers do you see contributing the most early in the season? Both at the LB position and special teams. Paul Tomasulo, Maineville, OH

PAUL: Thank you and I'm right with you. Thankfully. The vets, Josh Bynes and Germaine Pratt figure to be out there early and often. And probably Jordan Evans (hamstring) if he's healthy. But the two rookies and back-to-back draft picks, Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither, are going to play more than any Bengals rookie backer since Vontaze Burfict in 2012. Both from scrimmage and special teams. I also suspect speedy seventh-rounder Markus Bailey is going to find a niche on special teams right away.

One of the more sought after stats after the Chargers game is going to be snaps played by the backers because linebackers coach Al Golden has kept up a punishing rotation with the three rookies. But my sense is we'll see them a lot in some form.

Hypothetically, the team stays football healthy for the entire season...what's the Bengals win total? Dean Napier, Cincinnati, OH

DEAN: All of 2020 has been hypothetical. Never mind the draft, free agency or training camp. How about just going to buy a carton of milk?

But I'll bite. The only thing you can compare it to in Bengaldom is 2011, when they had a rookie quarterback in a makeover season. Like now, there was no spring ball. Unlike now, the players couldn't communicate with coaches from February to training camp. Unless you were drafted and you could talk to them only once on that day. Now, they're Zoomed out.

OK, just by draft status, Joe Burrow is better than Andy Dalton from that season. Like Cedric Benson was then, running back Joe Mixon is coming off two 1,000-yard seasons, but, and with all due respect to Ced, Mixon is younger and better. Veteran A.J., Green is better than rookie A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd is better than Andre Caldwell and the combo of John Ross and Tee Higgins should outplay Jerome Simpson's 50 catches for 725 yards and four touchdowns.

No question, the 2011 offensive line was more experienced and had a better resume, but this defense has more talent than Mike Zimmer's group up front. No one had more than 7.5 sacks on that line. They had Geno Atkins like this one does and Carlos Dunlap, but Dunlap didn't start and along with Sam Hubbard and Atkins, they have three players with at least one 8.5-sack season. The '11 corners were better (Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Nate Clements) with the current crop banged up, but Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell give Chris Croker and Reggie Nelson a run at safety.

If that '11 team could win nine games with Dalton, put me down for nine wins with Burrow for this team.

Can you provide any assurances based on preseason training that the offensive line will be able to protect Joe Burrow? You gotta believe the Chargers (opening game) and others will be throwing every defensive scheme at him to confuse. Mark Roth, Salem, NH

MARK: I wish I had a buck for how many times I saw the Salem, N.H. sign on I-93 and maybe I'd own a few horses at Rockingham Park.

This year? In 2020? I can't provide assurances for my own assurances, never mind the offensive line. I also refuse to make any judgments off Sunday night's scrimmage on any player or any position. No officials, no tackling, no nothing. Flag football.

The protection didn't look great live at Sunday's scrimmage – there was some talk of too many deep sets – but my sense is the team overall felt the group looked all right. It was also complicated because Burrow had to hold the ball a second longer because Green, Ross and Auden Tate were on the sidelines. Plus, the defense knew Burrow was chucking 70 percent of the time, so they did not respect the run and that's just miserable for any line.

I think they really like what they've seen from left tackle Jonah Williams. Athletically, he's been worth the wait.

My "assurances" are that he should be better than the left tackle play from last year. Yes, he'll be like Burrow in making his NFL debut here on Sept. 13, but he'll be an upgrade. Left guard Michael Jordan should be better in year two and has been one of the bright spots of camp. Right tackle Bobby Hart appears to have staved off Fred Johnson's challenge. New right guard Xavier Su'a-Filo has been what they wanted. Center Trey Hopkins is a quality starter. It looks like an upgrade over last year. If so, the skill positions have a chance to shine.

But, frankly, no one, not coaches, players, pundits or anyone else knows what is going to transpire on Sunday the 13th. It's been so unorthodox, no one knows very much. How do you evaluate guys that have been on the field less than a month and never against another team?

Hey, Mr Hobson! Long time reader first time writing. How are you holding up during this pandemic? Well I hope. My question is; the coaching staff seems to believe in (Ryan) Finley far more than any of us fans, but do you think there's weight to it? James Harrison, Westchester, OH

JAMES: Thank you for checking in and I hope you do it more often. Keeping a lot of my fingers crossed these days, thank you, and I hope you and yours are safe.

I suppose you saw head coach Zac Taylor's unabashed support of Ryan Finley after the scrimmage Sunday. He called him a "great number two." Since Taylor is the head coach, play-caller and long-time NFL quarterbacks coach, that does carry a lot of weight. Finley had an unimpressive three starts last season, but I take Taylor at his word. Finley took more heat than deserved running an offense that had a revolving door at left tackle and no Green and Ross.

With hilltop concrete moving to a new location, are the Bengals any closer to building a new indoor practice facility? Arron Gross, Covington, GA

ARRON: I'm not sure about them being closer to an indoor facility, but it does give them another potential option for a project they have been studying ever since they've been in Paul Brown Stadium.

Why in the world didn't Jake Dolegala get any reps especially considering Finley was sick earlier in the week? If they are going to cut Jake, do it now so he can get a job elsewhere for the next ten years. Rob Jenkins, Loveland, OH

ROB: To me the question is, why didn't Brandon Allen get any snaps? Taylor indicated when they signed Allen just before camp that he's the veteran who is going to be the quarantine quarterback, either as the third QB or one of the protected practice squad players. Allen has been on the field with these guys, he gets tested every day, so you know he's OK now. Why not him let run the system he learned from Taylor with the Rams for a series or two with the Bengals personnel?

Good question, wrong guy. I tried to ask Taylor why Dolegala or Allen didn't take a snap Sunday, but I fouled it up by framing the question by how many quarterbacks they'd keep and that's just too much information to divulge to the other 31 teams on the eve of cuts. So he didn't answer it and I can't blame him.

I do think the major reason they didn't play Sunday is because they're trying to give Burrow as many snaps as possible with no spring practices and no pre-season games. It's not like he's a five-year vet cruising into an opener under normal circumstances. They just can't spare him any work.

With the announcement of no fans which will obviously cause a loss in revenue... Will that affect player contracts? Will they have to let guys go they otherwise would've re signed next season? Tommy Williams, Milford, OH

TOMMY: The announcement of no fans is good for only one game so far, the opener. But, yes, there is an impact that will be seen in the lowering of next year's salary cap, which is figured from total revenues.

Currently, the cap is $203 million per team and can't go lower than $175 million next year. Well, it's definitely going to go lower than $203 million with the loss of fans, but how much is going to be determined by Covid.

And, yet….

Look at what Bengals president Mike Brown has done since the pandemic struck in March. Despite staring at the most uncertain economic outlook of his 85-year-old lifetime, Brown has spent like he's never spent before.

In free agency he has committed to this year and beyond about $125 million to defense, about $30 million on offense that includes the one-year, $18 million franchise tag for Green and on Tuesday, the first day of September, he rolled out another $48 million in Mixon's four-year extension.

So, yes, many teams are going to be impacted by the loss of fans and the corresponding lesser cap number. But one of the reasons the Bengals can still spend like this is because they don't shove big numbers into future years when they do deals. I haven't seen the details of Mixon's deal yet, but I'm going to bet it is heavily front loaded. That's good for the player and good for the team. The lack of dead money has kept them alive during economic uncertainty.

My question is: In a worse case hypothetical scenario Coach Taylor gets diagnosed with Covid-19 two days before a game, who steps in as the sideline play caller. Darrin Simmons as assistant head coach or Brian Callahan as offensive coordinator? Danny Hatkins, London, UK

DANNY: It's a good question and the assumption would be that special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, the assistant head coach, would run the game and make the final decisions (i.e. go for it on fourth, challenge a call) while offensive coordinator Brian Callahan calls the plays. The only question is if he'd stay in the press box or do it from the field and the guess is he'd stay in the box,

Since Thaddeus Moss was waived should the Bengals sign him to beef up the position? Joe Burrow is comfortable with him and he's (Randy) Moss' son. It just makes to much sense what do you think? Donovan Huff, Louisville, KY

DONOVAN: The Bengals shied away from Moss after the draft because of his injury history. After he missed all of the 2018 season with left foot injuries, they found a fracture in his right foot at the scouting combine earlier this season and had to undergo surgery. So that hasn't changed.

Plus, they don't need to beef up the position. They've got six tight ends they really like and they may be only able to keep three. And they love those three in C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample and Cethan Carter. Uzomah has emerged as a terrific leader, Sample is showing why they took him in the second round in 2019 and Carter is as reliable as they come, as well as a special teams maven.

Burrow has certainly looked comfortable throwing to those guys. But then, Burrow looks comfortable throwing to equipment room titans Sam Staley and Tyler Runk during practice. (And both guys have superb hands.)