Minicamp mysteries

Posted: 9:20 p.m.

These mandatory minicamps have become the NFL's version of Where's Waldo?

But did Plaxico Burress offer a clue to wide receiver Chad Johnson's intentions Thursday when the Bengals open their mandatory minicamp?

Johnson isn't the only mystery surrounding the Bengals this weekend, although he is certainly the most riveting. But there are also questions bubbling at third receiver, running back, fullback, and the general state of a defense learning another scheme.

And would LeCharles Bentley possibly interest the Bengals even though he is the type of injury-laden veteran they stayed away from all offseason?

"No comment," said agent Jonathan Feinsod, when contacted Wednesday night.

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Johnson

MYSTERY NO. 1: As of Wednesday night, not even those closest to Johnson knew if he was coming to Paul Brown Stadium after an offseason he spewed trade demands, insults, retirement talk, and holdout threats.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus couldn't be reached Wednesday, a day he took a conference call with the New York media to explain why Burress showed up at the Giants mandatory camp but didn't practice.

Burress said it was because he wants a new deal, the reason many believe Johnson has gone off. That's also the issue in Buffalo (left tackle Jason Peters), Seattle (wide receiver Bobby Engram), and Arizona (wide receiver Anquan Boldin), just to name a few. Defensive end Jason Taylor is sitting out in Miami, too, but it's not exactly over money.

MYSTERY NO. 2: Who is the No. 3 wide receiver and how far away are the kids?

The Bengals need someone to line up with Johnson and fellow Pro Bowler T.J. Houshmandzadeh in three-receiver sets.

The resumes of the candidates are thin. Third-year practice squad graduate Marcus Maxwell has impressed, but he's got one NFL catch. Glenn Holt is tough and seasoned in the offense, but he's only got 17 career catches and Antonio Chatman is three years removed from his 49-catch season in Green Bay.

The Bengals used two of their first four picks on wide receivers in the draft, but from Eddie Brown in 1985 to Chris Henry in 2005, only one rookie wide receiver caught five touchdowns and that was Darnay Scott.

There are answers in an amped-up running game, the addition of a pass-catching tight end in Ben Utecht, and the potential return of running back Chris Perry.

Which brings us to:

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Perry

MYSTERY NO. 3: How healthy is Perry?

Teammates and coaches insist they don't see much difference from this Perry and the one from 2005, before he dislocated his right ankle. Practice observers have noted his ability to stick said foot into the ground and make the cuts that have helped him average 4.6 yards on his 73 NFL carries.

But it is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield that would lessen the blow of trying to find a third receiver. Both he and Utecht have the ability to split out.

MYSTERY NO. 4: Who is going to play fullback in a season Marvin Lewis has pledged to run the ball?

Tired of Jeremi Johnson returning to offseason workouts out of shape, the coaches moved tight end Daniel Coats to fullback. But he never played until now. A couple of college free agents from the area (Ohio State's Tyler Whaley and the University of Cincinnati's Bradley Glatthaar) are tough kids, but how far away are they from lining up on first down and trying to detonate Ray Lewis?

MYSTERY NO. 5: Can the Bengals find the identity of their defense that was lost when David Pollack broke his neck and Odell Thurman got suspended for a year in a span of 10 days in 2006?

They've got good men attempting to track it down in veteran NFL performers Mike Zimmer, the new defensive coordinator, and Dhani Jones, the ninth different starting middle linebacker under Lewis if the current lineup holds for Sept. 7 in Baltimore.

As for Bentley, the Browns cut him Wednesday even though he returned to the practice field this week for the first time since blowing out the patella tendon in his knee two years ago when he was one of the game's best centers.

But as soft as the Bengals' heart is for Ohio State guys, it's as hard for guys that turn 29 in November with a serious injury history. But, Bentley had been an elite player, he has vowed to play again, and he won't command much money after a two-year layoff.

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