Q: Do you think that the backup TE is currently on the roster or that they will pick up someone that is released soon (as they did with Tony Stewart)? It appears that blocking/protecting Carson is the primary objective of their TEs. Day, Ghent, Mulchay, Blizzard and Coats all have skill but have little experience. Knowing how important the offense values Reggie Kelly on and of the field, who is next in line if he is injured?
--Gary M., Taylor Mill, KY
GARY: You could write a thesis on why the one guy the Bengals can't lose after No. 9 is Reggie Kelly. And—you're right—one of the reasons is his backup may be on an August waiver wire.
How valuable is Kelly? Back in March, Palmer lobbied him to stay via phone when he looked to be on the verge of signing elsewhere, so case closed.
As a man, run blocker, and pass protector, he brings brains, passion and tenacity. And no one behind him has ever played in an NFL game.
Bobby Blizzard, the team's most recent signing, became a trivia question when NFL Europa couldn't break the Iron Curtain of debt: Name the last man to lead the Cologne Centurions in catches (38), receiving yardage (494), and touchdowns (6).
But Blizzard, who's got the best tight end number of them all (Matt Schobel's old 89), is working on his fourth NFL team and the first training camp workout will be his first in the offense.
The Bengals seem to like Daniel Coats, their free agent rookie out of Brigham Young that had a solid career as a blocker and looks to be an athletic guy at 6-3, 255 pounds. They also seem to regard the guy next to Coats on the roster at the same size with the same dimensions. Tim Day got a lot of snaps with the first team at the mandatory minicamp that Kelly missed because of illness.
Day, who caught 86 balls at Oregon, has also flashed some athleticism but he's working on his third NFL team. Ronnie Ghent has been here since the middle of 2004 on the practice squads. It looks like he'll be ready for training camp after he reaggravated a foot injury this spring and missed many of the workouts.
Translation: Just from an experience factor you'd have to think they'll be trolling the waiver wire after the third and fourth preseason games for a backup tight end, although they picked up Stewart late in the 2002 season (from Philly) on waivers. But that could change if one of the kids emerges in the preseason.
All it proves is that Stewart is that classic NFL case of a reliable, dependable backup that you don't know what you've got 'til its gone.
Q: What young player has impressed you the most so far, everything from attitude to performance? There's been a lot of buzz about Ratliff and Leon Hall, but what about Madieu, Caleb Miller or Peko? Also, how do the two rookie DBs drafted this year look?
--Evan, Arlington, VA
EVAN: From his size, speed, poise with the media and the reaction of his coaches, Chinedum Ndukwe gets this vote. But you could put all three drafted DBs in that category.
Ndukwe, a safety taken in the seventh round out of Notre Dame, probably gets this nod for exactly that. He's a seventh-rounder. You expect Hall to be as impressive in a public setting as he is on the field because that's how he was advertised and a first-round cornerback from Michigan is supposed to impress when he breaks down and hunkers into a backpedal.
And you expect Marvin White, the fourth-round safety from TCU, to come in talking about being aggressive and confident because he was drafted as a hitter. But White also added some little bonuses during the spring when he showed good hands and ability to track the ball in centerfield.
But seventh-rounders aren't supposed to come in with the polish and promise that Ndukwe showed. He's an athletic 6-2, 220 pounds and looks to be as bright a guy on the field as he is off the field as a double major at Notre Dame looking to get his Master's, so you figure he won't be kept off the field for failure to learn.
It's too early to make a judgment, obviously, but going off the spring you'd have to conclude that Hall, White and Ndukwe, along with cornerback Johnathan Joseph and free safety Madieu Williams, are the long-term core of this secondary.
Williams is in a tough spot in the sense that he's in a division where he's going to be routinely compared to Pro Bowlers Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed, and Cleveland's Sean Jones is emerging as a top-flight player.
But Williams, heading into his fourth season, remains a valued guy to his coaches. Talk to them and they consistently speak about how he consistently played last season, which is a good thing because he led the team with 1,265 snaps. Now in his second season removed from shoulder surgery, he looks to get better and better.
You can't tell much about the linemen on the field in the spring, but a young guy that just continues to impress is Peko.
He not only watches fellow defensive linemen Bryan Robinson and John Thornton on the field, but he also lockers between two of the best interviews on the team. So you can catch him listening to how they handle the questions, and sometimes he'll ask you what they said.
Plus, Peko is just a great guy, as evidenced by a memorable Sunday back in the spring when he was late for church because he stopped to help an elderly man pinned his car after an accident in Northern Kentucky.
Q: Which Bengals starters are entering a contract year?
--Spencer, Clifton, OH
SPENCER: The two biggest names are on the defensive side of the ball in end Justin Smith and safety Madieu Williams. Other guys to keep an eye on are punter Kyle Larson and linebacker Landon Johnson.
The next month, the last few weeks of the season, and right before free agency are when those deals traditionally get done. Last year they locked up tackles Willie Anderson and Levi Jones during the preseason, but it doesn't sound like their talks with Smith have been as extensive as those were last year before the deals got done.
They did make a bid to wrap up Larson earlier this year before putting a second-round designation on him in restricted free agency that nets him $1.3 million this year. That scale may have escalated a bit with Carolina's Jason Baker, a seventh-year punter, and a Pro Bowler in Buffalo's Brian Moorman getting deals in excess of $1.5 million per year.