Q: Who seems to have the edge so far in training camp for backup quarterback, Doug Johnson or Anthony Wright? If Palmer is not ready by the start of the season, we want to have a strong leader running this offense.
**--Jon N., Belbrook, OH
JON:** Wright is the guy, it seems now, that is beyond a shadow of a doubt. All I know about him is that he helped one team win an AFC North title as the starter, and that's good enough for me when it comes to leadership. And the thing about Wright that I like is he throws a nice deep ball. And I love Jon Kitna, but Wright gets the ball down the field and Kitna can't. Or at least not as easily or as accurately.
Sure, Wright didn't have a great practice Wednesday morning. he threw a couple of bad picks, including an ill-advised fling in the red zone that could have easily been deposited out of the end zone. But that's why there are Pro Bowl quarterbacks and No. 2 quarterbacks. Of course there is going to be a dropoff. You have to realize that. He just has to mimimize those mistakes.
Q: I have heard rumors that linebacker Ahmad Brooks is doing extremely well in training camp. Do you think it's possible that he could win a starting job this season?
**--Michael M., Vandalia, OH
MICHAEL M.:** Forget the rumors. It's true. On Tuesday alone he had a pick and a few nifty moves after the catch, and then made a big-time downhill play when he shot a gap and manhandled running back Quincy Wilson out of bounds.
Look, I think the guy is going to be a starter for them, but it's so difficult to know when. He missed those spring camps, and he only played six games last season, and you saw how slowly David Pollack started last year without a training camp.
I can't see Brooks starting this year because they remember how many problems they had with a rookie in that spot last year and they actually can look back at specific games where that inexperience cost them.
But I can see Brooks getting rotated later in the season because he can play all three spots. Which brings us to the next question.
Q: Just read your piece on Dexter Jackson. In your view will he be the guy in '06 that stands up to Hines Ward and other Steelers who typically try to win psychological battles early in the game with bully/intimidation tactics?
With regard to Justin Smith, is his departure due to age, $$, attitude, or scheme? I absolutely love the guy and believe he is worth a new contract to keep him around for 3-5 more years. I'm guessing he either doesn't have Marvin's trust or Marvin has another defensive scheme in mind that doesn't fit.
**--Jim S., Louisville, Ky.
JIM:** You've got it right on Jackson, but I don't think its so much matching mind games as it is having a mind that is used to big games. Because he's got scars from the biggest games in the league, he's a guy that isn't going to fold when Carson Palmer goes down or the Steelers resort to some razzle dazzle. He gives this team a big-game spine.
As for Smith, he told Bengals.com back in May that he figures he won't be back because they've put all their money in offense (and since then Levi Jones re-signed) and that he thinks the Bengals are headed to a 3-4 and "I'm not a 3-4 guy."
Who doesn't love Smith? He plays hard, he plays all three downs, and he always, always, always ends up being in the top three for tackles and sacks on the team, and that kind of production just doesn't grow on trees.
The problem is that defensive ends get the big money just like all those quarterbacks, receivers, and left tackles the Bengals have been locking up.
Back in May, I compared Smith to Grant Wistrom. In the six seasons Wistrom spent as a Rams end, he played in 91 games, had 41.5 sacks, and 462 tackles. In five seasons, Smith has 34 sacks and 414 tackles in 79 games. Project '06 into the mix and Smith's numbers are almost dead on if you put him down for 16 games, six sacks, 90 tackles: 94 games, 40 sacks, 504 tackles.
The Seahawks got ripped for overpaying Wistrom in free agency after the '03 season with $14 million up front in a six-year deal for about $33 million. But you can see that Smith is looking at some serious beans, and it's kind of like the Eric Steinbach thing. They love Steinbach, they just don't want to pay a guard tackle money. They love Smith, but they don't want to pay a seven-sack-a-year guy the money that belongs to guys getting a dozen a year.
There is nothing wrong with Smith's attitude. Lewis loves him, too. He trusts him, but it looks like Lewis trusts the 3-4 even more. If North Carolina State defensive end Manny Lawson had slid two more spots, the Bengals would probably be in a 3-4 right now.
But the drafting of the 260-pound Brooks gives the Bengals all sorts of 3-4 options in the near future if they move Bryan Robinson and John Thornton from tackle to end, use Sam Adams, Domata Peko, and Shaun Smith as nose tackles (and they're already built that way), and then put Brooks and Thurman (or Simmons) at inside backer flanked by David Pollack and Landon Johnson.
Smith sees the evolution of a 3-4, but he'd love to stay. Yet, since no one has raised it with his agent in so long, he figures he won't be back.