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Hobson's Choice: Whit the key

Q: Where does AC's (Anthony Collins) and (Nate) Livings' performance against the No. 1 defense put them for now and next year? Who is going to play right tackle next year? Is Bobbie going to be the center?
--Ed A., Huber Heights , OH

ED:** If they haven't put Bobbie Williams at center by now, it's doubtful they will next year and they'll keep him at right guard. The key is left guard Andrew Whitworth. If they deem he can play tackle, he very well could be the starter on the right side in '09.

Left tackle seems to be taking shape. In one night Anthony Collins went from Levi Jones' presumptive heir apparent to starting left tackle indefinitely. It would be hard to believe they would rush Jones back with his leg injury at this point and it looks like Collins will finish out the season. If the Steelers' game is any indication and Collins is the real deal, they have to decide if Jones is too expensive as a backup, a role he balked at last year.

Livings is probably going to play the next month or so at left guard because of Whitworth's high ankle sprain. But the thinking here is they'll move Whitworth to right tackle, draft a center, and pick up a left guard somewhere unless Livings impresses them down the stretch.

They've tried to sign right tackle Stacy Andrews for two years and it hasn't happened yet. The tough time the Eagles' Trent Cole gave Whitworth shows why Whitworth can't be a steady on the left side. He has too much trouble with the elite rushers. And there are some that wonder if he can play right tackle. Not only is he lefty all the way and has never stepped on the right side, but there are also speed rushers on that side, too. Plus, you're looking at a guy that can be a Pro Bowl guard.

But what's the alternative at right tackle? One argument for keeping Whitworth at guard is they will most likely have a new center. Eric Ghiaciuc is unsigned and while he is a better athlete than Rich Braham, his size and strength doesn't appear to be a good matchup in the AFC North. But Williams will have a year with, presumably, the rookie.

It's hard to believe this line is breaking up. With the drafting of Ghiaciuc, Andrews, and Whitworth, as well as the extensions for Jones and Willie Anderson, it was supposed to be the foundation of the franchise. Instead, critics are labeling it as one of the top reasons this team has fallen so fast.

Q: With the season over, looking toward the draft do you see us saying goodbye to Ocho Cinco and hello to Michael Crabtree? My thoughts are we need a new weapon to move the chains on offense and Michael Crabtree can bring the big play back to the Bengals. What do you think?
--Mike, Riverside, OH

MIKE:** Usually the night sweats start if you take a receiver so high because you can get a great one anywhere in the draft. But if they can get a gamebreaker, grab him because their receiver situation is as cloudy as it has been since Darnay Scott broke his leg. Even before the Chad Deactivation, receiver was already their biggest offseason issue.

The situations around both Chad and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are about money and how much an elite wideout in his early 30s should be paid. Is Chad going to want more money after his worst season? Agent Drew Rosenhaus is already laying the groundwork by talking about how the Carson Palmer injury has affected his client. But Rosenhaus is also waving an olive branch when he says they know they can't "bully" Ocho out of Cincinnati.

So if the Bengals want to be free of a potentially combustible situation and have had it with the histrionics, they have to be looking at the option of blowing it all up. Particularly if they bring other massive changes to the offense. Of course, the last time they tried that at receiver it was an unmitigated disaster when Scott broke his leg and the rookie receivers were overwhelmed. The one thing they have now is a franchise quarterback to ease the transition, but it's a transition none the less.

If they don't pay Houshmandzadeh elite money and he walks, they will be criticized heavily. The argument is that they've known since 2005 that while Ocho was the more spectacular and talented of the two, he was also the most volatile and Houshmandzadeh was the most reliable. Plus, they turned down at least a No. 1 pick for Ocho last spring.

By all accounts, until last week Ocho had said and done all the right things. If you think he's going to be here in the spring and he's not going to be disruptive and there are going to be no complications from shoulder surgery, maybe he stays.

Certainly, in order to smooth the transition to the young guys, you've got to have one or the other or else there will be chaos. Unless you take your can't-miss guy at the top of the draft.

The one caveat there is Whitworth. If they don't think he can play right tackle and they believe he's just a guard, then they will have to draft one of those tackles with that high pick.

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