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Hobson's Choice: Status quo?

Q: I was a little more than upset when I read about Marvin saying not "to get your hopes up" about things changing after the offseason. However, there is an interview with Marvin in the *Columbus Dispatch Saturday morning in which he talks about "blowing the whole thing up." Is the truth somewhere in the middle? Was he just referring to the speculated coaching changes when he said that the media had "jumped the gun?" I tend to think that the truth is somewhere in the middle. Is there any clarification you can provide?
--Mike M., Evansville, IN*

MIKE: Marvin is churning out more signals than a third base coach on steroids so clarification doesn't seem to be his gig right now. At least until after Sunday's game, or hopefully at Monday afternoon's news conference.

For all I know, he's going to blow himself up. But I'm with you. He talks with Mike Brown every day, so I think he's talking more about players than coaches and the way that he and the coaches go about things rather than specific coaches.

Judging from Lewis saying not to expect earth-shaking changes on a day he no doubt met with Mike, it would make you think all three coordinators are back.

But in Bill Rabinowitz's interview with Lewis published in Saturday's Dispatch, Lewis wouldn't answer anything related to front-office issues or tenures of coaches. The "blowing it up" reference seemed to indicate a culture change in locker room attitude and approach. Maybe he is sick and tired of losing a guy like Chris Henry for the first eight games of the season, and wants to start over with more reliable players.

Does he want to trade Chad Johnson? Mike has already said Johnson is going nowhere. That would seem to be decided.

In some ways, it kind of harkened back to an interview Lewis did here earlier this year after the Super Bowl.

"We had too many guys worried about their next contract. We knew that was going to be an issue going into the season," Lewis said back in February. "We tried to educate them. You've got to be able to overcome that ... that's part of your chemistry. That had nothing to do with losing three games. Our professionalism lost us three games at the end of the year. We didn't do things we normally can do very good."

So I just don't think we're going to get anything airtight until Sunday at the earliest. Lewis and Brown have probably already hashed out some things for next year. There may not even be a Monday meeting between the two, unless Lewis has a bomb to drop on him. Certainly the track record shows Brown has preferred to keep the status quo after worse seasons than this one.

The general manager thing seems to be a myth more than anything. From what I can gather, Lewis appreciates, enjoys, and uses effectively his 24-7 access to the owner. Why would he want a middle man introduced into the mix, a middle man more powerful than he?

Makes no sense.

And if Mike hasn't done it by now ...

That said, any coach who has worked under and still talks to Ozzie Newsome probably has strong opinions about how players are signed and drafted. Lewis has refused to get into that discussion publicly over the last five years but he seems comfortable after his drafts with the amount of information the club gathers on college players. And they're always taking about "the underachieving Bengals," so they (whoever they is) must also think they have talent.

When Lewis first arrived there was some noise about dividing the personnel department into pro and college and easing the burden with another hire or two, but there hasn't been much of a buzz on that front lately.

Q: Hindsight is always 20-20, but if you do a year-end review, could you please address: The effect of Hue Jackson's departure on the receivers. The departures of Kevin Kaesviharn and Brian Simmons on the defense and Eric Steinbach on the offense. (I'm not mentioning Rich Braham since that was a retirement.) The decisions to hold roster spots open for Chris Henry and Chris Perry. The failure to draft or sign a top notch tight end to complement Reggie Kelly.
--Bill H., Berwyn, PA

BILL: Any time you lose a coach as charismatic and as effective as Jackson, it causes an adjustment that has nothing to do with the guy that comes in after him. At safety, maybe the question should be why didn't they play the young kids sooner? You have to talk about Braham and no roster spots were sacrificed for Henry or Perry. Tight end is an issue but not burning like others.

Jackson, now the Falcons offensive coordinator, is in a mess he never could have imagined. His quarterback is in jail and his head coach is in Fayetteville, Ark. A shame because there's no doubt Jackson not only would have connected with Michael Vick like he did with the Bengals' quirky receivers, but Vick would have produced like Jackson got the Bengals receivers to put up numbers.

Jackson should get a real shot at the Falcons head job (or any college head job for that matter) because he's exactly what they need: Young, tough, fiery, he knows offense, and he's not afraid to lead and get in players' faces.

And none of this is a shot at Mike Sheppard, the Bengals' new receivers coach. The guy has been coaching NFL offense and wideouts since the early '90s and is as solid a person and coach as you'll find.

But the receivers had to adjust to a new personality, a new teaching style and I'm sure it was a factor in some things being off, particularly because Jackson had such a tight relationship with those guys.

But Jackson would probably be the first to tell you that you've got to be mature enough to overcome that.

One thing that is interesting is that when Chad Johnson came back from this past offseason, he made no bones about saying how the offensive coaches were all over him about his weaknesses and flaws and that there wasn't much positive reinforcement. He kept saying they were "trying to push his buttons." Given the way the season played out for him, they may be rethinking that tact.

I didn't like the release of Simmons when it happened, and I was really surprised he got so little time in New Orleans. Talk about hindsight, he would have been a godsend when all those linebackers got hurt. Who knows? Maybe he could have made a difference early but the difference?

(That's one thing I think has to change. Don't be afraid of older players. Look at the Patriots.)

I guess the thought with Kaesviharn is he could have provided some stability in a secondary that got burned early. But really, shouldn't that be the job of your starting safeties?

I can't get on them for not paying a 31-year-old third safety with a bad back $1.5-2 million per year when they went out and drafted two guys arguably better in Marvin White and Chinedum Ndukwe. Plus, they felt their top special-teams player, Ethan Kilmer could do a lot of the things Kase could do (albeit not his instincts) at safety and corner.

No, the question isn't Kase, but why weren't White and Ndukwe getting some snaps earlier?

Kilmer, by the way, along with wide receiver Tab Perry, are the guys for whom they saved the roster spots, not Henry and Chris Perry. Henry was on the suspended list and Perry was on PUP, and neither were part of the active 53.

Both Kilmer and Tab Perry figured so prominently on special teams that they thought it was worth the gamble to keep the spots early in the season in case they could come back from injury.

Maybe it hurt them in some of those games they were really low on linebackers, such as New England and Kansas City. But I don't think it was a huge factor. Carson Palmer's interception at the end of the half turned the New England game and the 1-for-11 effort on third down in the one-touchdown loss in Kansas City was the story of the Chiefs game.

Steinbach is a good player, but left guard Andrew Whitworth played well in his spot. Maybe the continuity was hurt, but you can't pay a guard $5.5 million a year (and Steinbach got $7 million) for that when you have two of the highest-paid tackles in the league.

And Steinbach certainly didn't dominate them last Sunday.

You have to talk about former center Rich Braham. He's the major piece missing. He played with years of experience, brute strength, and tremendous leadership, particularly in communication. Those guys don't grow on trees.

Heck, to not have Braham and right tackle Willie Anderson for most of the season is devastating. And this offensive line is still on the verge of setting a franchise record for fewest sacks. Plus, if they had decided earlier that Rudi Johnson just didn't have the juice because of his hamstring injury, they could have a top 10 yards-per-carry average.

I'm with you on the tight end, but you've got to have priorities. Anything on defense is more of a pressing problem than the tight end and so, arguably, is finding a bell cow running back if they think Rudi Johnson can't do it any more.

But whether it's the patterns they're running or the lack of a threat over the middle, the inability to throw underneath zones seems to be more of a problem than ever. A lot of that is a product of the inconsistent running game, but it just looks like that Palmer is looking at 15 guys in coverage on third down.

Now maybe because the offense really fell off his year, the tight end thing has to be taken seriously. But get a catching specialist veteran that's modestly priced. Doesn't the first day of the draft have to be defense?

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