Hobson's Choice: Stash the recycling

Q: Although the Bengals drafted three defensive backs, they are still unproven, and with the Jaguars' release of Donovin Darius, is there any chance the Bengals could pursue him? He's got that hard-hitting attitude that can help create a defensive identity, and on top of that, Darius is coming off a major knee injury. Those sound like two characteristics Marvin Lewis loves to have in his players.
--W. Steven W., Reutlingen, Germany

STEVEN: Very intriguing ... if it were two years ago. The guy was a great player, but haven't they been ripped for years for signing guys (Richmond Webb, Michael Westbrook, Kevin Hardy, Sam Adams) past their primes?

You'd have to put Darius in that category now after suffering season-ending injuries the past two years. An ACL injury in '05 and a broken leg last season have limited him to 12 games the past two years, when he hasn't had an interception or a forced fumble, and barely made 50 tackles.

Throw in that Darius turns 32 in August and it just doesn't make sense at safety for a team that paid Dexter Jackson last year, may have to pay Madieu Williams next year, and likes their two rookies in fourth-rounder Marvin White and seventh-rounder Chinedum Ndukwe.

The one thing Lewis really likes is speed and the fact that the Jaguars drafted Florida safety Reggie Nelson No. 1 should tell you what they think of Darius' speed.

As a Syracuse alum it hurts me to say that because he's been such a good player for so long and was such a big part of Jacksonville's really good teams in the late '90s and early '00s.

Yes, Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle was the 'Cuse's defensive coordinator when Darius was an Orangeman, but only early in his career when he was not yet a factor.

The defense needs help, but not from the recycled bin of dented former Pro Bowlers. When has that ever worked for them?

(I did like the Hardy signing though because he helped Lewis instill what he wanted in the first two seasons when it came to professionalism. You'd like to think after four years they don't have to go on the post-June 1 waiver wire to get that.)


Q: What is the buzz in Cincy concerning the Bengals defense? I'm not sold on them being much better this year. I'm not sold on Ed Hartwell or Ahmad Brooks. The loss of Brian Simmons I thought was huge and one the Bengals defense (couldn't) absorb. Losing Kevin Kaesviharn was gigantic, too. They didn't really address any sort of pass rush with the draft or free agency and why is Marvin continuing to hang on to the 4-3? He implemented a 3-4 in Baltimore and why not in Cincinnati? The year scares the hell out of me. I feel that the Bengals are poised to take three steps backwards. What do you think of my thoughts?
--Tom C., Mount Prospect, IL

TOM: When it comes to defense, it's more like a jury-is-way-out murmur instead of a buzz. Concern, yes. But if they're going to struggle at least they're going to be faster and younger and that should mean better.

Maybe I've completely whiffed on this one but I think there is a sense in and outside the club that a little bit more youth and a little bit more speed is going to make them better.

Enough?

I would think with this offense if the defense could get ranked from 18-21, they could win the Super Bowl with that. Can it improve that much? That's why the jury is out there as far as the eye can see.

I don't like the Simmons move, either because of what you lose in experience and intangibles. But they could have countered that by getting Takeo Spikes back here even if it was for $4M, and that was disappointing that didn't happen.

Instead, they went with a more cap friendly hit in Hartwell, and he does give you those things like experience and fire and I think that will prove to be a solid signing, although have less impact. But Hartwell and Brooks, actually, are a nice veteran-youth blend on paper and while I'm a huge Simmons guy, he was so banged up last year that he didn't move like he can.

A healthy Brooks and Hartwell do upgrade them from last year simply because Brian was hurt.

I also think they upgraded on the D-line for the same reason. Sam gave them hardly a thing because of his knee problem and with Domata Peko and a blue-collar producer in Michael Myers getting those snaps, they should be better off at tackle, too.

And clearly they're better back in the secondary with the drafting of cornerback Leon Hall. Losing Kaesviharn is tough, but if Marvin White can run and hit like they say he can as the third safety, that could help them enormously.

They're going to miss Kase's savvy in the nickel package but they also have to get more physical back there and that's not Kase's game, and I think Kase is a terrific guy and role player supreme. Yet, as much as fans clamored to keep Kase this year, as many wanted to get rid of him the year before after the Steelers did a number on the secondary in both the long ball and the running game in the Wild Card loss.

Actually, Lewis didn't implement the 3-4 in Baltimore. In fact, he once said he played it only once there and it was because of injuries. The Ravens media guide lists the '96 regular defense as a 3-4 in Lewis' first season but then they were 4-3s all the way up until his last season of '01.

I'm not sure Marvin is sold on the 3-4 as a base, although he does believe there has to be both and the Bengals run plenty variations of the 3-4 on third down.

He'll say what every coach says; whatever your personnel can do. And this defense simply isn't built for a 3-4. There doesn't appear to be prototypical body type nose tackle (Adams and Shaun Smith are gone), the linebackers are too small for a 3-4, and the best pass rushers are pure 4-3 ends in Justin Smith and Robert Geathers. Geathers would have a better shot than Smith converting to outside backer, but it's not ideal for either of them.

I'm not sure you can say they didn't address their pass rush in free agency. In order to keep their two leading sackers, they dumped a cap number of more than $13 million in Geathers' extension and Smith's franchise player designation.

You can argue they should have let Smith go and pursued free-agent Adalius Thomas and signed him to a deal with a salary cap number that would have been far more manageable than Smith's $8.6 million deal.

But they can argue they locked up an Adalius-type guy in Geathers who is six years younger.

Sure, everyone around here wishes the defense was on more solid ground.

But with guys like Peko, Brooks and Johnathan Joseph playing more snaps than they did last year, and Hall as the nickel corner at worst, I don't think you can say they took three steps back, either. They didn't shock the world like the Patriots during the offseason. But they did get a little younger and faster and that has to put them at least a step ahead of last year.


Q: What is the current status of David Pollack? I know he's on the roster, but is he going to be able play in '07?
--Steven A., Clayton, N.C.

STEVEN: He hasn't been around much all spring and no one seems to think he'll play in '07 (if ever), although they won't say it officially on this year yet.

Here's one prediction.

He starts training camp on the active/physically unable to perform list and then goes on PUP at the start of the season and misses the first six weeks. Then he'll go on IR for the rest of the year and he'll see how it feels in '08. He seems pumped up about the prospect of coming back purely as a defensive end, but that's a long way off.

But, frankly, only Lewis and Pollack know and they haven't been on 60 Minutes lately.

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