First, what do you think the chances are of Odell Thurman winning Defensive
Rookie of the Year? His play has been outstanding, and he just seems to be getting better every week.
Second, why isn't Marvin playing Shaun Smith? The guy is huge, and it seems to me that he would
help solidify our suspect run defense. Being fast doesn't help when the running back is bowling the
defensive player over (ala Bettis). What is your opinion?
Ed, Las Vegas ED:
Thurman might have a tough go of it since the voters love sacks and defensive ends Demarcus Ware and Shawne Merriman are starting to get them in bigger markets. The Smith question is a favorite of this media, and Lewis pretty much gave his answer at Monday's news conference.
It's hard to see how a rookie can come in and play any better than Thurman has at middle linebacker. Not only that, but his passion, exuberance, and pure tough-guy mentality have given this defense a long needed edge. And he's one of those pure playmakers that always seemed to be sitting in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Now the Bengals have a guy who almost wills the ball into his hands and offers hits that end up put to music.
But he's also had his ups and downs like any rookie as he tries to tone it down and play the fits and not overshoot the running game. And he's also trying to become more consistent getting off blocks.
It might be hard for voters to go with a guy who is the middle backer for a run defense giving up 4.7 yards per carry. And he'll have to overcome his second-round selection when first-rounders like Ware and Merriman are playing so well for Dallas and San Diego, respectively.
Each has four sacks as a pass-rushing linebacker in 3-4s, but you'd probably have to give the edge to Ware. He's been such a factor for the NFL's fifth-ranked defense, the Parcells' aura bounces off him, and he plays in the media frenzy of the NFC East.
Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson, another first-rounder, may get some votes because he's playing a lot and got a lot of pub during the draft, but his unit is ranked 29th overall and that won't help you in the heartland.
You don't have to sell me on Thurman. He's been better than advertised and he'll only get better. But it could be a tough sell outside Cincinnati unless he comes up big in games against Indy and the Steelers that are heavy on the spotlight.
Whatever happens, he'll get more votes than what Madieu Williams got last year. With all due respect to Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma, that was a disgrace. No rookie did what Williams did last year playing three different positions. But that shows you the power of the first round and a big market, so prepare for that.
As for Smith, here's what Lewis said Monday when he took a question from Chick Ludwig of "The Dayton Daily News:"
Q: "Does Shaun help with your run defense?"
A: "Obviously not if I deactivate him, right? In my mind, I try to activate the guys that fit in our plans each week."
(By the way, you can probably use that answer for Matthias Askew, too.)
A lot of us thought it was surprising that after playing the first six games and playing fairly well on his 10-12 snaps, the 325-pound Smith got sat down against the smash-mouth Steelers, and then again last week when there was an opening with the deactivation of linebacker/rush end David Pollack.
We thought that it was tough going into a war with the Steelers with just two pure tackles and rotating 280-pound end Carl Powell at tackle. But, you also have to realize how much Lewis and his coaches love and admire the grit, determination, and production of Powell
Yet, he's just 280 pounds and this is a blow-it-up division. But, now you have Lewis' reasoning. Of course, if he's raised his standards, so have the fans. If this was a year ago, wouldn't this just be, "In Marvin We Trust"?
Smith did say Monday he thought he was going to play against the equally smash-mouth Ravens. And maybe he can if they're no longer worried about wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh's hand.
Lewis has been dressing all six receivers, not knowing if a shot could take Houshmandzadeh out of the game at any time. But he might be more intact with two games under his belt since his return.