Will the safety position hold the Bengals back in 2010?

PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 15:  Chris Crocker #42 and Chinedum Ndukwe #41 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrate in the bench area en route to an 18-12 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers during their game at Heinz Field on November 15, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Bengals defeated the Steelers 18-12. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Merry preseason, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be breaking down the Bengals’ safeties and why they could become a liability for the team this season.

Special teams is arguably the Bengals’ biggest weakness heading into the 2010 season, but I’ve avoided talking about kickers to this point and I’m not going to start now.

Pass protection, pass rush and quite frankly, even Carson Palmer are question marks for Cincinnati heading into the season. But the safety position may be the biggest concern the Bengals have in 2010.

Granted, this isn’t a huge issue because starters Roy Williams and Chris Crocker have loads of experience and Crocker has played very well in Cincinnati despite lackluster tenures in Cleveland and Atlanta earlier in his career. But both of these players have glaring weaknesses that can be exposed by opponents.

We’ll start with Williams, because his weakness is more widely known. The man is a force against the run but couldn’t cover his bed in new sheets. He has also played in just seven games the past two seasons because of nagging injuries. His backup, 25-year-old Chinedum Ndukwe, has failed to impress in his first couple of years despite having the opportunity to see live action when Williams was out.

As previously noted, Crocker has been a good Bengal over the years but he was assisted off the field in the first quarter of the Hall of Fame game earlier this month with a right ankle injury. He dealt with ankle issues late in the year in 2009 and had arthroscopic surgery on one of them in February so obviously that’s a concern.

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Dez Bryant says he was unaware of shoulder pads tradition

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 9: Roy E. Williams #11 of the Dallas Cowboys is tackled by Sheldon Brown #24 of the Philadelphia Eagles after gaining 17-yards on a second quarter catch during the 2010 NFC wild-card playoff game at Cowboys Stadium on January 9, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

After being scrutinized for refusing to carry teammate Roy Williams’ shoulder pads following a recent training camp practice, Cowboys’ rookie Dez Bryant says he didn’t know that the gesture was a tradition in the NFL.

“I didn’t know nothing about no tradition,” Bryant said. “The only thing about me … when I try to do something right, ya’ll try and turn it negative and I don’t feel like that’s right. I’m trying my best to do the right thing but it seems like I can’t do the right thing because every little thing that I do ya’ll watching it and try to make a big deal out of it.”

Some are trying to make a bigger deal out of this situation than it really is, but Bryant says that everything between him and Williams is fine now, so the issue should be dead. Bryant wasn’t aware of the tradition and now he is. Griping.

Like I wrote yesterday, I think Williams should carry his own pads seeing as how he’s stealing from the Cowboys with that ridiculous salary of his. In fact, I think both Williams should have to carry Drew Pearson’s shoulder pads.

Jones not ready to give up on Roy Williams

According to Dallas Morning News columnist Kevin Sherrington, Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones isn’t ready to admit that he made a mistake by trading for Roy Williams two years ago.

Will the Cowboys really release Patrick Crayton, a decent #3 receiver and punt returner with experience and keep Roy Williams just because of his contract? When you put it that way, no, it doesn’t seem fair. Crayton is more versatile than Williams. But Jerry’s not ready to admit he made such a big mistake on Roy. If he could ever play to his potential, Roy’s a weapon. Jerry would like to think he’s finally going to get that now. Nothing motivates like a contract year or competition for your position.

I don’t think there’s any question that trading for Williams was a mistake given what Jones parted with (a first, a third and a sixth round pick) in order to acquire him. He also signed Williams to a six-year, $54 million contract with $26 million in guaranteed money and the receiver hasn’t come anywhere close to honoring that deal with his production on the field.

Unlike some Cowboy fans, I don’t think Williams is useless but it’s hard to argue that Jones didn’t make a mistake in acquiring him from Detroit and paying him that much money. The other problem is that Williams is probably the fourth best receiver on Dallas’ depth chart behind Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Crayton. Fifty-four million is a lot of money to be paying a fourth receiver.

At some point, I think Jones will have to cut his losses and move on. I don’t think it’ll be this year, but chances are Williams won’t see the end of his contract.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Roy Williams ready to fight to retain his job

Cowboys’ receiver Roy Williams is well aware that rookie Dez Bryant wants to get on the field this year. And in order to do so, he’ll have to unseat Williams, who is the incumbent starter at the position opposite Miles Austin in the offense.

“This ain’t my first rodeo,” Williams said. “I got recruited [to Texas] with B.J. [Johnson] and Sloan Thomas, so those are two top-notch guys. I came in and did my thing. I was the third one on the totem pole in that deal, and I came out No. 1. I don’t really see it as a competition thing. I see it as us getting better.

“But I know in the back of my mind and the back of his mind, he wants to play, the only way he’s going to play is to get No. 11 off the field, and that’s going to be tough to do. But it’s going to make us better as a football team.”

In preparation, Williams has been catching 200 balls a week off the JUGS machine according to the Dallas Star-Telegram. He’s also catching 40 or 50 balls from Tony Romo during the week while trying to ensure that he won’t drop as many passes as he did last season.

“It won’t even be half,” said Williams, who had the 12th-most drops in the league last year, according to STATS Inc. “Do you want to take that bet? I won’t even come close. Promise you.”

Williams has the right attitude, but he’ll have his work cut out for him competing against Bryant. While it’s always best to keep expectations somewhat tempered when it comes to rookies, Bryant is just flat out better than Williams. He’s faster, has softer hands and projects to be more of a playmaker. There’s a reason why the Cowboys drafted him and it wasn’t so he could watch Williams (whose contract may have saved him from being released by now) play.

That said, Williams is right in that Bryant makes the Cowboys a better football team. Competition breads success and the addition of Bryant should make Williams more focused and determined to produce.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Will the Cowboys franchise Miles Austin?

After he hauled in 81 passes for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns in only nine starts last season, setting receiver Miles Austin up with a new contract moved to the top of the Cowboys’ offseason to-do list. But according to ESPNDallas.com, the Cowboys might not place the franchise tag on Austin (who is a restricted free agent) this offseason.

The Cowboys have until February 25 to decide whether or not to apply the franchise tag to Austin and pay him roughly $9.5 million for 2010. If they use the tag, they can still work out a long-term deal for the 25-year-old receiver, which would make the most sense given that he became the team’s offensive MVP last year.

If they place a first and third round tender on Austin, the Cowboys will pay him $3.168 million in 2010, assuming that another team isn’t willing to pay that kind of compensation for the receiver. Either way, it’s a safe bet that Austin isn’t going anywhere. He was Dallas’ most consistent receiver last year and he has all the tools to become a legit No. 1 receiver for years to come.

With the threat of a lockout coming in 2011, it might be wise for them just to place the franchise tag on him and worry about coming together on a long-term deal after the new CBA deal is struck (assuming one is struck, that is). That said, players want financial security and the only way to achieve that is by signing a long-term deal with a team. But thus far, the Cowboys haven’t offered one.

Given that Roy Williams made roughly $9 million to catch less than half the balls Austin did for less than half the yards, it’s only fair that Austin be paid as the team’s top wide out. But the Cowboys have options and it’ll be interesting to see what they inevitably decide to do with Austin.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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