Notes: A bond

Updated: 6:30 p.m.

It turns out that Aaron Hehr is the same age as Carson Palmer.

He was born Sept. 27 of '79 and Palmer arrived exactly three months later that December. But it is an Achilles tendon that has tethered them together without ever meeting.

It is Hehr's mother, Julie De Rossi, that donated in death the Achilles tendon that is now Palmer's anterior cruciate ligament and Hehr estimates Palmer is one of about 80 people that has part of his mother.

"Our lives have changed because Carson was willing to speak about the transplant," said Hehr before Thursday night's Miracles For Life gala at Paul Brown Stadium. "We'll always be grateful to him for that."

De Rossi's family is being honored for their contributions to transplant awareness, a role that came at them fast and furious 18 months ago when it was revealed Palmer's supersonic return from his Jan. 10, 2006 reconstructive knee surgery involved the donation from the 44-year-old Houston woman that died a day after her car was hit by a drunk driver in 2004.

There should be plenty of music Thursday. De Rossi, event director of a company promoting global music exchange, chose to have a party instead of a funeral.

"It just gives us another chance to brag about my mom," Hehr said. "She was energetic, loved life, and had a great ability to bring people together. And I tell people she could be a pain in the butt, too. She was a mother."

She also brought people together like her son, her mother, her sister, and her 12-year-old nephew Burke with an energetic fellow himself named Tom Starr.

Starr, of Blue Ash, Ohio, is founder and chairman of Miracles For Life. At 62, he is known for a variety of things. A retired Xerox executive, Starr is the older brother of the trainer of the Big Red Machine, Larry Starr, as well as an Army veteran who served at the White House and lost a coin flip that sent his buddy to Dallas with John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.

But going on 20 years, he's best known as one of the world's longest living survivors of a liver transplant. And he's had two.

"Julie's family has become quite the spokesmen," Starr said. "They've become one of the two best at it, and I think you have to say a big reason is because of Carson. They've got a story to tell."

Hehr figures this is the fourth or fifth event around the country they've done since the summer of '06, when Palmer agreed to talk about the surgery with Cris Collinsworth on HBO's Inside the NFL.

Hehr, working on his masters in business administration from the University of St. Thomas, is a car racing enthusiast like his mother. A schoolboy baseball and basketball player, and a cross-country runner, Hehr had always been too busy to keep up with football scores.

Until now, when he occasionally checks on the hometown Texans but looks up the Bengals every week.

And it's the family's second trip back to PBS. They were here for the Bengals' Monday night loss to the Patriots last Oct. 1. They have become unabashed Bengals fans and Hehr says Burke may have cared a little bit about Texas football but after Palmer's surgery he has become dyed-in-the-wool Who Dey. Complete with a bedroom soaked in orange.

"I was upset. I felt badly watching Carson because you knew how hard he was trying and he just couldn't get any momentum," Hehr said of that night. "When I see him, I don't see my mother or anything like that. Carson was a professional football player before the injury and he's the same player now. We're just grateful he's given us a voice to reach so many people."

Hehr's pitch is simple.

"It's extremely important to communicate with your family about what you think is important and what you believe," he said. "It goes beyond organ donation. Its many more things than that. But when we were at the hospital and were dealing with that she wasn't going to make it, there was no question (about being a donor). She was a very giving person and it was something we had talked about."

De Rossi's family has fallen in love with Cincinnati. Everything from Graeter's Ice Cream to Wednesday night's dinner at the Montgomery Inn Boat House. And there will be a decided Bengals flair Thursday night with all-time scorer Jim Breech and three-time Pro Bowl safety David Fulcher joined by current right guard Bobbie Williams.

"We love coming back here. The people are so nice and friendly," Hehr said. "Watching Carson, I just admire the way he handles himself; with a lot of class."

No doubt people Thursday night will be saying the same thing about Julie De Rossi's family.

SLANTS AND SCREENS

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One reason the Bengals may very well not franchise defensive end Justin Smith is, since it would be the second straight year, a huge number. It is the average of the top five salaries or a 20 percent increase from the previous year's tender. Since Smith was at $8.6 million, that translates to $10.3 million.

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Word is that linebacker David Pollack's visit to the doctor last week has been postponed but that apparently hasn't changed anything. Once it is rescheduled he'll make a determination on his status for this season.

Pollack's possible return may or may not play into the Bengals' decision to stick to a 4-3 or go to a 3-4. His desire to avoid the more violent collisions at linebacker might be able to be met as a 3-4 outside backer. He has lobbied to return as a 4-3 end.

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Pollack

So his return probably won't be a dead-drop clue on what the Bengals are thinking. And there doesn't look to be a Manny Lawson-type guy early in the draft whose selection could solidify a move to a 3-4.

Jerry Jones, the former Cincinnati pharmacist who publishes the draft survey known as "The Drugstore List," says one clue would be the selection of an interior lineman. But don't look for it in the first round because Glenn Dorsey and Sedrick Ellis figure to be gone and Kentwan Balmer is a reach at No. 9.

And the ends accessible after Chris Long are more 4-3 guys in 253-pound Derrick Harvey and 258-pound Vernon Gholston.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., currently has Clemson junior end Phillip Merling ticketed to the Bengals. But Merling is a second- or third-rounder on some early boards. While at 6-5, 270 and apparently strong enough to play the run, Merling might be big enough to be a 3-4 end. But weight doesn't mean much. It's all style and word is Merling is more of a 4-3 guy, too.

So maybe if the Bengals don't take any of those guys that's a clue.

As we search for clues, here's a nice nugget from ESPN's estimable Mike Sando in the wake of the Dolphins' release of middle linebacker Zach Thomas:

"League-wide, the starting defensive linemen in 3-4 schemes outweighed their 4-3 counterparts by about 18 pounds per man (307.3 to 289.2). The starting 3-4 linebackers outweighed their 4-3 counterparts by about 13 pounds per man (252 to 238.9)."

It shows you how massive of a change the Bengals would have to go through to get to a 3-4. Last year's starting front of Smith, left end Robert Geathers and tackles John Thornton and Domata Peko averaged about 285 pounds. The training camp starters at linebacker (Rashad Jeanty, Ahmad Brooks and Landon Johnson) went about 246.

If it's not a defensive player, the Bengals could always go for an offensive tackle. There are never too many first-round pass protectors in the Carson Palmer era.

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One spot that won't be up for grabs for anyone in the first round is tight end. Jones and his fellow draftnicks say the Bengals could have a shot at one of the first two even though they move back to the middle of the second round.

With Marvin Lewis saying the Bengals are looking for an athlete that can catch and can develop as a blocker, Jones has his heart set on Missouri's 6-4, 247-pound Martin Rucker. He points out that he's faster, taller and the same weight as the consensus No. 1 prospect, USC's Fred Davis. And Rucker, brother of Panthers defensive end Mike, caught 84 balls and eight touchdowns this past season.

But ESPN's Todd McShay has Rucker rated later in the middle rounds and is talking up an athletic Texas red-shirt sophomore, Jermichael Finley, as a possible second-rounder after a 45-catch season. Yet reports had Finley opting to come out when he was projected as a fourth-rounder.

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