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Hobson's Choice: What To Do At No. 5 And Other Matters

New offensive line coach Frank Pollack works with 2019 first-rounder Jonah Williams for the first time this season.
New offensive line coach Frank Pollack works with 2019 first-rounder Jonah Williams for the first time this season.

With the new uniform changes, any chance they got to a white helmet with stripes for the color rush unis? I love that uniform and that change would be awesome. Dave Smyth, Fishers, IN

DAVE: Because of NFL protocols, a team can have only one helmet, so the striped helmet is it. But the rush is a great look, isn't it? I agree. Very clean. But it can't be on the helmet.

Love your column first along time fan I really enjoyed your talk with Lap didn't realize he could have gone to any Ivy League school my question is there a future with A.J. with the Bengals and I know the biggest need is offensive line John Passarge, Wilmington, OH

JOHN: Thanks for reading and listening back there in the town of the Bengals' first training camp. And, yeah, who knew? I thought I knew everything about Lap, but that's so impressive.

I wish there was a future with A.J. Green in Cincinnati. It looks uncertain, like a lot of the offseason right now. Really a lot of unknowns there. No one knows what the salary cap is going to be and I don't think anyone really knows what Green is going to command on the market. I think he's got a couple of very good years left, enough to push him into the Hall of Fame, and there may be teams out there willing to pay a price the Bengals may have to put on that offensive or defensive line. I sure do wish it could work, though. Great player. Even better person.

There is a lot things being said about what position Jonah should play LT, G or RT. I wonder what position he think he's more valuable at? Also what do you think we should do with the 5th pick? Henry Schemauri, Greenville, SC

HENRY: Haven't asked him, but he's certainly the kind of player willing to do what's asked. My sense is that he believes what makes him valuable is his disciplined, daily approach as a student of the game, a trait that makes him able to play multiple positions.

I think they should get as many players as they can in the first two rounds. So, trade the fifth pick to San Francisco at number 12 when the 49ers want to come up for a quarterback. And then I take the best cornerback on the board, probably Alabama's Patrick Surtain II.

With the Bengals' 38th pick, give me an edge player in Pitt's Rashad Weaver. With the 49ers pick at No. 43, give me Michigan tackle Jalen Mayfield.

In just 43 spots, you've filled some pretty big holes. Now, they have to decide if a guy like Mayfield is better than the current young tackles they have and if they do, there he is. If not, well, what about Alabama guard Deonte Brown at No. 43?

Are the Bengals goin to get someone that will protect Joe Burrow from getting hurt Jerry Blackwell, Cincinnati, OH

JERRY: Yes. They just re-signed him. Offensive line coach/run game coordinator Frank Pollack.

It seems you're in lock and step w/ the org when it comes to the current O Line. However pundits & fans disagree wholeheartedly. Why does the org and staff continue to believe in these players when it's obvious the current roster is poor? Aaron B, Hampton, VA

AARON: First of all, the organization hasn't said a word about how they plan to upgrade the roster. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor has deferred that question to the offseason and now that we're here I expect he and director of player personnel Duke Tobin discuss it soon. So there's nothing to be in lockstep with, from what I can see.

Secondly, I never said anything about not improving the offensive line. I think what I said on Jimmie Foster's Facebook show is while they need to upgrade on the offensive line, it strikes me the more immediate needs are on defense. They desperately need pass rushers, tackles and cornerbacks. There are needs on the offensive line, but they can line up and play with what they've got, as well as improving the run game and balancing the run and pass. As evidenced by the finale, the defense needs to get healthier and better immediately.

Plus, let's see what new offensive line coach Frank Pollack thinks. He just got the job last week, so once he goes through what he's got (only four current offensive linemen were with him here in 2018), he may see those needs differently.

You often speak about the need to improve our Defense. I am concerned for the longevity & career of our young gunslinger if he's not better protected. How do we better serve him? Draft? Trades? Free Agency? Inquiring minds want to know. Todd Unser, Shepherdsville, KY

TODD: Just because I said we need to improve our defense doesn't mean I meant ignoring the protection of Burrow.

Look, they were last in the league in sacks and have one pass rusher under contract. Even before they were decimated in the last game against Baltimore, they allowed 4.7 yards per rush in AFC North games. Three of their top four cornerbacks either didn't play last year because of injury or are free agents. So, yeah, I think defense is a huge priority.

I've also written countless of times during and after this season that Taylor's top off-season priority is protecting Burrow. But that's not all personnel issues. And they may have already had the biggest off-season line addition they could have got with the re-signing of Pollack. Given the added title of "run game coordinator," Pollack seems to have Taylor's blessing to rip up the run game and make it better.

And that's going to protect Burrow more than any top five tackle or a ridiculously priced free-agent guard ever could. A solid, reliable run game. I've said it before, I'll say it again. Burrow's best offensive lineman is running back Joe Mixon.

That doesn't preclude upgrading the line in the draft or free agency. But there are elements already here that can protect Burrow.

Hope you are well. I wanted to know if there are any updates on DJ Reader. I had a similar injury and it was a long healing process. Do we know if he will be able to start the season? Dan in Charlotte, NC

DAN: I am well and hope you are as well. I spoke to nose tackle D.J. Reader last week when I did a story on his line coach at Clemson, Marion Hobby, coming to coach him here and he was quite upbeat about his rehab from the torn quad. (By the way, that's the same injury Reader's backup, Renell Wren, suffered on one of the first days of training camp.) Given that he tore it in mid-October, from what I can gather he's expected to be ready for training camp.

Do you believe all the teams in front of the Bengals in the draft will all choose quarterbacks? Todd Estep, Euless, TX

TODD: No, I just don't see Oregon tackle Penei Sewell or one of the top wide receivers slipping out of the top four. Maybe not both, but one of them isn't going to be there at five. But ask me in a week.

What gives you hope with Zac Taylor, only six wins in two years? His offense never seemed innovative. Wide receiver corps not good. Offensive line was only marginally fair. What gives you hope? Michael Rolsen, Fort Wayne, IN

MICHAEL: Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon and Pro Football Focus' top 2020 rookie class. You might want to review the top three receivers under contract in Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and Auden Tate. Two of them would have had 1,000 yards and the other would have had 50 catches if all three didn't get hurt. That's a good group. They need some speed to be great, but better than you think. Throw in Fort Wayne's own Jessie Bates III, PFF's top graded safety, and there's talent around here.

Hey Hobbs, simple question, do you think the draft will be a fail if we don't get to draft Sewell? If not, who do you think the next best choice would be? Joby Clayton, Lyman, SC

JOBY: No. Like I've been saying, unless you think Sewell is a lock for Canton (and the way they play offense in college the last five years that' position is becoming a tougher and tougher transition), I'm not even sure that's the best pick at five. How could you pick receivers Ja'Marr Chase or Devonta Smith and feel badly about it? Now you've got that great receiving group for the franchise quarterback.

Plus, it's a stretch to think Sewell makes it to them. Look, I want to trade back, but if you get Chase or Smith or even Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, that's a hell of a night.

A lot of emphasis has been placed on the urgency to improve our front offensive line for Joe and the special tools he has in the backfield and receiving corps. I'd like to question what is happening on the other side of the ball. The defense. Tony Ransick, Bakersfield, CA

TONY: There you go. Good question. I think the defense is something they're going to attack as aggressively as the offensive line.

A big thing is health. Their two biggest and most expensive off-season pickups, nose tackle D.J. Reader and cornerback Trae Waynes, played a total of five games. They made Reader the highest paid nose tackle in the NFL and he played like it before he tore his quad. Waynes got injured before he stepped on the field, so it's almost like they've got a 1A free-agent class already.

Another free-agent pickup, strong safety Vonn Bell, solidified the middle of the field with free safety Jessie Bates III. They have to decide if linebacker Logan Wilson, last year's third-round pick, is ready to inherit the three-down role of Josh Bynes. He was easy to get lost behind the first two picks, but Wilson showed well enough that they think they've got a guy that can do that at some point soon.

It's no mystery what the primary needs are on defense. Edge rushers, cornerbacks, tackles. Just like linebackers were emphasized last year in the draft (three out of seven picks), I think you'll see a similar commitment in other areas of the defense, as well as interest in what surfaces on the free agent list.