Offense to be taken

Posted: 5:25 a.m.

The urgency is all around Marvin Lewis just days before the NFL Draft on, of all places, the offensive side of the ball that has carried his six seasons as Bengals head coach.

And that may mean action as soon as the second round or a third round with two picks that could be dedicated to both running back and wide receiver on a team where injury has bored as many holes into offense as defense.

If the Bengals aren't going to trade volatile Chad Johnson, Lewis dared him to sit out the season and told the world Tuesday he's not planning on Johnson even as the Bengals still seek a No. 3 receiver.

Also Tuesday, Bengals officials took a break from their draft meetings to watch running backs Rudi Johnson and Chris Perry work out as they attempt to come back from injury-riddled seasons.

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Lewis

Also Tuesday, Lewis announced the impending retirement of linebacker David Pollack, the team's first-round pick of 2005. Pollack and Perry, the first pick from '04, are not so subtle reminders that injuries have transformed what should be a draft for depth into a drastic 10-pick scramble for players that can help immediately.

"We need to make up some ground," Lewis admitted Tuesday of the injury impact. "We need to overcome that ... we still want to raise the talent level. We need to hit on guys at the end of this draft."

But the front will most likely dictate this Bengals draft. If they can't get USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis at No. 9, that may mean the 46th pick in the second round has to be devoted to a defensive tackle like Notre Dame's Trevor Laws, and the running back and receiver may have to come out of the third round at Nos. 77 and 97 knowing that the receiver is going to automatically become their leading candidate to be the No. 3.

But if the Bengals do get Ellis, that may mean they can get the receiver at 46.

Or, maybe the running back.

The problem is that while receiver is the hottest priority, the club believes the kind of big, bell cow back isn't around very often after the second round. Names like Jamaal Charles of Texas (5-11, 200) and Chris Johnson of East Carolina (5-11, 197) bubble up at No. 46.

Word is the Bengals were impressed with Perry's movement even though he hasn't played in a game since November of 2006. And they liked the fact that Rudi Johnson looks to have some girth back in his chest and legs.

But is that enough to go on before the second round dawns?

"This is a good draft to get backs and receivers. There is a lot of depth there all through the draft," says Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com. "It just depends on what you want."

The Bengals want height and speed at receiver, and they won't get the best of that combination after the second round.

At the very least at running back they need a tough inside runner at some point for insurance for Johnson. They already have a speed back in DeDe Dorsey and one of the best third-down backs in the NFL in Kenny Watson.

"You can usually only get the bigger backs early," says Jerry Jones, the ex-Cincinnati pharmacist who publishes the draft survey The DrugStore List and knows full well the Bengals' philosophy that you can count on getting a bell cow in only the first two rounds because of size.

So that would appear to take them out of the running for smaller guys like 5-9 Steve Slaton of West Virginia, perimeter guys like East Carolina's Johnson, and maybe guys like 5-8, 206-pound Mike Hart of Michigan.

"He's a real good inside runner and a good blocker, but he does get hurt," Jones says.

The 6-1, 217-pound Kevin Smith put up gargantuan numbers at Central Florida, but while Jones has him available in the third round Rang has him gone in the second. Rang loves Rutgers' Ray Rice, a guy he compares to Tiki Barber when it comes to running physical, but at 5-8, 200 pounds "the question is if he can do it in the pros."

Rang and Jones disagree by about a round on guys like Smith, Johnson, Hart and Rice. Jones thinks the Bengals will have a shot at them in the third, but Rang isn't so sure. He does think guys like Georgia Tech's Tashard Choice, at 5-10, 215, and Tulane's Matt Forte, at 6-1, 217, are going to be available in the third and fit Cincinnati's need for an inside back.

"Choice is a tough kid who played through injuries," Rang says. "Forte is a guy that makes sense for them. The thing you have to remember with the running backs is that a lot of juniors came out and pushed down some pretty good players."

Still, Jones says if the Bengals wait to the third round to get a back, they have to get him at No. 77 because he won't be there at 97.

"Then you can go for a receiver I really like in Dexter Jackson," says Jones of the Appalachian State return flash.

But Jackson is just 5-9, 182 pounds, a guy that doesn't exactly fit into the Bengals big-receiver blueprint. But, then again, if you want height and speed the last, best shot is going to be at No. 46.

A month ago the Bengals also wanted a receiver that could return kicks, but they're probably not as fussy now. They need a guy that can play now. A guy like Cal's DeSean Jackson may not seem as attractive now at 5-9, 190 pounds despite his return pop.

Two Big 10 receivers may be falling because of character in Indiana's 6-5, 217-pound James Hardy and Michigan's 5-11, 180-pound Mario Manningham, but they still could be gone by 46. Hardy, with 16 touchdowns in '07, may end up being the Pro Bowler in this group but no one sees him being there at No. 46.

Oklahoma's Malcolm Kelly probably will be. He went from being the draft's top receiver to controversy after his glacial 40-yard times were compounded by his comments. It will be interesting to see what the Bengals think of him now after they rushed him to Paul Brown Stadium for a visit after his campus workout. The thing about Kelly is he's got that Bengals size of 6-3, 225 pounds.

Still, Rang thinks Kelly will be gone in the bottom of the first but he does have Manningham free-falling out of the first even though the teams he talked to have put a first-round grade on him.

Rang mocked Notre Dame tight end John Carlson going to the Bengals at No. 46, but with the signing of Colts tight end Ben Utecht he's going to change it up. He has Hardy going five spots ahead of the Bengals with Florida receiver Andre Caldwell going 52 to Tampa Bay and LSU receiver Early Doucet going to the Steelers at 53.

Both are about 6-0, 200 pounds and return kicks, but Caldwell has a bit of an injury history and Doucet had a solid 57-catch year despite constant double-coverage.

"Give them Doucet," Rang says. "He's just a football player, a tough kid who still produced even though people were all over him."

After the second round, the players get smaller but there are guys that Rang says will produce. He looks at the 47 balls Packers rookie James Jones caught last year. Potential third-rounders to keep in mind are Virginia Tech's Eddie Royal and Vanderbilt's Earl Bennett. Royal is only 5-9, but repped 24 times with good strength and popped two touchdowns off punt returns last season. The 5-11 Bennett is smart and runs good routes, so he could probably help close to right away. The magazines say he would be best in a West Coast offense playing underneath zones, but his yards after catch ability would be a help anywhere.

Then there is Kansas State's Jordy Nelson, flying up the charts. But it may be no man's land for the Bengals. Too high at 46. Gone by 77.

"I don't know about that," Rang says. "He only had one dominating year. He could still be there."

The Bengals might like that. He's got the height at 6-2 and the track background. But the experts say he's a little raw running routes, and, as the word went forth Tuesday, the Bengals don't exactly have the depth to sit back and develop.

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