It's been very guest-bloggy up in here lately, as I've been doing some business travel. Also, when the posts floating your way are this good, it's impossible to turn them down. My brother Bradley wrote this post... he is quickly becoming my sports writer, as that's one area of Cincinnati heritage that I can't begin to cover with any competence!
Did you ever see that scene in Vegas Vacation, when Clark Griswold is at the Hoover Dam and tries to plug the holes with his gum? I've always felt the Bengals to be in a similar situation, where the moment our running game takes off, the passing game breaks down. And as soon as our passing game tightens up, our long-snapper goes kaput. Then it's our tight ends, then it's our defensive backs, then it's this, then it's that.
Now most of that can be chalked up to the game of football. Generally, when guys collide at three hundred miles an hour, sixteen days a week for forty-two million, things aren't going to work well every time. But damnit, if it's not one thing it's another with the Cincinnati Bengals. So let's take a look at some of the holes that need to be filled in the organization, and what can realistically be hastily taped up until next year.
Arguably, the tight end is the most important position to be filled by the Bengals right now. Banter has gone back and forth about the resigning of Reggie Kelly, who was lost to a season-ending injury, but no final word has been made on a return. The Bengals then lost Ben Utecht to injury, and are finally releasing him to the free agency. Chase Coffman, same story, and I hope you're seeing a pattern here. So the position was finally given to a combination of the Daniel Coats and JP Foschi. Coats quickly earned my status as "the next Brad St. Louis," because of his inability to perform.
So, with the position in question and clearly no easy solution in sight, the Bengals have to focus this season on pursuing a tight end. This means a number of things, like further pursuing Reggie Kelly, a tested tight end who knows the team, knows the plays, and knows how much he should earn; or do we continue the Bengals' streak of finding talent in youth: spending precious draft picks on an untested college kid, or (uncharacteristically) anchor down a big name from another team, in exchange for what I can only assume would be talent from our own field.
But the bigger problem I have with the tight end position is the role the tight end plays in the line. Every site I've read so far has demanded the player be active enough to catch pass-after-pass from Palmer, and planting on the field as a security blanket for our passing game. However, after watching an often-times fearful Carson Palmer make throws off his back foot in fear of being tackled, I'd like to think a credible argument could be made that a blocking tight end could be more valuable overall. With the roster full of wide-out options, it seems silly to me to add one more to the mix, especially with the short routes that Coles can handle, and the amount of times another blocker could have prevented turnovers, or given Palmer that extra second he needed. The way I see it, Palmer needs time, not options: so let's give him just that.
And not as a direct contradiction to what I just said, but beefing up the wide-out options is the second priority of the Bengals in the off-season. With the departure of TJ Houshmandzadeh, it was quickly realized that no one man could step up to do his job: that it would take the entire receiving corp to provide the depth and openings that TJ himself provided for the Bengals. But with the unfortunate passing of Chris Henry, and the less-than-exemplary display by Coles, it's clear that the options Palmer once had need to return to what they once were, and not what "should be" by fans.
A lot of armchair writers have discussed the importance of adding more receivers to the mix, to give Palmer more hands to throw to. But is that really where we need to spend time and money, when the tight end problem is still here, and the receivers we have are still developing? And what do we expect from our passing game, to overshadow what it once was in 2005? Let's try and be realistic about what can happen in just one year. Similar to the tight end, we're left with drafting a rookie, paying big bucks for a big name, or trading away pre-existing strengths.
The solution isn't simple, and is also a matter of coaching. Where does Marvin Lewis want to take us? Where does Bob Bratkowski fit into the picture? And do we want to return to the old dynamic of two great receivers on both ends of the field, or a rotating mixture of rookies to fill the void? Do we stay the course and run the ball? And are the wideout options really the most important areas to focus on? We have young players to cultivate, and we have the team as a whole to look at, not just one side of the ball, one set of hands, or one player's attitude. Locker room chemistry can't be bought, and healthy players can go at any minute.
Let's just hope the gum holds.