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Hobson's Choice: Tall stories

Q: The poll question recently asked about the opening day starting guard-tackle combination. Is there any chance that Whitworth will move to the center position so that he can get on the field? When they drafted him they raved about his smarts. At center he sure would get to use them. I think that after franchising Stacy Andrews they have to play him. If everyone else is healthy Whitworth might not start if he doesn't move to center. I keep thinking of Bruce Kozerski at center and then later left tackle.
--Jim E., Loveland, OH

JIM: At 6-7, Whit is just too tall for center, a position where you rarely see anyone 6-4 or taller. With Stacy Andrews expected to start somewhere, the question is which guy gets knocked out. It looks like it won't be center Eric Ghiaciuc just by watching the workouts.

It also won't be tackles Willie Anderson and Levi Jones. So that means they could be looking at one of the guard spots to put Andrews. He's played both sides, so we'll have to wait and see how it plays out.

But it doesn't look like they would move one of the guards to replace Ghiaciuc. They're just too tall (right guard Bobbie Williams is 6-4) for a position that's principles are primarily based on leverage.

And, from the looks of things they haven't been trained there. Kozerski (good call into the Holy Cross archives) went 6-4, but he was 285 pounds, played in a different era, and came up as a center.

Bob Surace, the former Princeton center and current Bengals assistant line coach and research guru, thinks the one current tall center exception in the NFL is the 6-5 John Wade of the Raiders. He also reminds you that it took Rich Braham, the gold standard, a good while to get comfortable at center after making the transition from guard.

But the Andrews thing is a long way from being played out.

Q: What are the chances of seeing Andrews & T.J. signed to long-term contracts before the season starts? I'm torn. At first, I liked how we signed all our good players, but over time, I think it may have been a mistake. Almost all the big money players either underperformed, were injured, or had attitude problems. We seem to be able to pick up top tier OL & WR outside of the first round at will. If next year's free-agent class is more talented than this year's, Andrews won't be up for the kind of money he is now. On the other hand, he could have a banner year and require more money. T.J. is 30. Is part of the problem that we don't want to give him the term he wants? What are the options here if they aren't signed by the end of the season?
--Matt W., South Vienna, OH

MATT: Fans are besides themselves that nothing has happened with Houshmandzadeh. But except for Chad Johnson in April 2006, the Bengals historically extend players at the end of the season (Carson Palmer) or in the preseason (Willie Anderson and Levi Jones).

So look for that timetable on Houshmandzadeh if it's going to happen. Plenty of time.

They've been trying to extend Andrews for nearly two years and they've got a July 15 deadline now because he's the franchise player. If it hasn't happened by now it makes you wonder.

But don't look for the meter to stop running on Andrews. He's young, he's huge, and he's athletic. His value isn't dipping any time soon. Note young Bills left tackle Jason Peters, a 2004 draft project just like Andrews, sitting out the voluntaries in Buffalo for what is thought to be more bread.

I'm not sure what they'll do on T.J. It's a tough one. There's no question he's deserving of the Pro Bowl and that he's one of the top receivers in the league as well as one of the greatest Bengals receivers of all time.

Below Isaac Curtis and Chad Johnson, but ahead of Cris Collinsworth and Carl Pickens.

Yeah, he turns 31 in September. After tackles Levi Jones and Willie Anderson hurt their knees following their $40 million extensions, people are gun shy about making those deals on older players.

But, let's also be real. At the end of last year, Anderson and Jones were playing well. To me, healthwise, the fact they aren't here in the voluntaries shows they feel OK physically.

If the new 50 is the old 40, doesn't that mean the same thing in pro sports, where the nutrition and workout regimens are at an unparalleled point in history? Couldn't you also say the new 32 is the old 28?

So how much does he have left and how much do you give him? I'm a Housh guy, so I'd give him the big deal in large part because you don't know the mindframe of No. 85, but you or I aren't making the call. Of course, a lot of people would have you committed if you gave a 31-year-old receiver $7 million per year and it would be hard to dispute logically and historically.

Yeah, he'll be 31, but given he didn't start playing a lot until '04 and he stays in great shape, I think of him as 28. And the whole deal now should be to give Carson Palmer whatever he needs in pass protection and pass catching.

(Remember what happened when they tried to go with a majority of kid receivers in 2000? It took the offense three years to recover. Of course, Akili Smith was the quarterback, but they had one of the best running backs in football and still couldn't throw.)

With rookie Anthony Collins and Andrew Whitworth in the mix for the long-range future, they would better survive losing Andrews than Houshmandzadeh. Franchising Andrews again looks to be out of the question because it would be a $10 million plus proposition.

Franchising Houshmandzadeh doesn't look to make much sense, either, unless you figure that at end of the franchise season he'll be 32 and by then Andre Caldwell and/or Jerome Simpson is/are ready.

But who really knows when it comes to signing long-term deals? You'd almost be better off doing them with tarot cards instead of actuary tables.

Q: Come on Geoff, are you going to tell me that T.J. isn't emerging to be one of the team leaders on offense? His interview on the NFL Network was first rate. The Bengals need to get him signed ASAP. I agree that the quarterback always has to assume a leadership role, but don't you think with the situation with Chad being what it is, that T.J. is going to play a major role in getting this team to the next level?
--Tom, Alexandria, VA

TOM: Look, I'm an avowed Housh guy. See above. The guy is tough, reliable, and as productive as hell.

But all I know is that Carson is here and now and helping the young receivers and setting an example.

Help me out because I don't have an answer for you. Can a guy not be at voluntary workouts and still be considered a team leader? Are the other guys going to follow them when they come in?

You tell me because I don't know.

I'm of the school of thought that once the bullets start flying, yes they will. Once the pads come on, guys like Willie and T.J. are going to assume their natural roles. That their body of work and years of commitment and production far outweigh some workouts in shorts.

I also disagree with people who say their absences show a lack of commitment. You know that both guys, as well as Levi and Chad, are working their tails off to stay in shape the best way they know how. They always have. Look at their numbers. Doesn't that say enough about commitment?

But I'm not the guy that has to be sold. When you talk about leadership, it's the guys in the locker room you have to watch.

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