Want to name a starting center? Wait until after the preseason

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

There's too much demand for whom the Bengals should start at center. Perhaps a little perspective and patience offers a better suggestion.

Clearly, Trevor Robinson is Cincinnati's favored son.

Well, adopted son.

Kyle Cook is yesterday's news, the graybeard of offensive linemen, whose greatest contribution was being there when the team finally mercifully ended the Eric Ghiacuic era. New pretty toys usually trumpets people's attention. But don't expect the steady ol' veteran to fade without one last jab.

Regardless, the Cook v. Robinson debate is being preheated in the oven. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis uncharacteristically admitted that Robinson and Cook will compete for the job. Cook accepts the challenge.

"If anything it is one more challenge for me to overcome. You do whatever you can to make this team and yourself better," Cook told the Cincinnati Enquirer in early June. "I don't have a say, but if it is up to the way I play, perform and lead, I would like to think I still be here."

People are actually taking sides, believing that Robinson, using a small sample last season against inferior teams, is enough to replace Cook. On the other hand, one of Cincinnati's new-found tastes of success is sustaining talent behind starters for eventual promotion. It's widely believed, including from this writer, that they have that piece at center.

However, it is not believed by this writer that the Bengals should make that decision based on 2012 -- rather settling the choice through training camp and the preseason.

If not for the league's change in their Injured Reserve procedures, allowing one player to return later during the season, Cook's high-ankle sprain would have sidelined him for the year. Robinson, far more healthier, clearly outperformed Cook after replacing the injured Jeff Faine.

Though team-based statistics should never be the primary point for individual offensive linemen, in the seven games that Robinson started, the Bengals averaged 144 yards rushing. Fantastic. Great work. High-fives. Yet five of those seven games were against rushing defenses that ranked No. 18 or worse (four ranked No. 22 or worse).

Kyle Cook returns and suddenly the offense takes a collective nose-dive. Some finger-pointing was leveled at the veteran entering his sixth season. In reality, not even close to 100 percent, Cook's first regular season start came against the second-ranked rushing defense in Pittsburgh during week 16. He followed that up with a cameo appearance against the Ravens, then the seventh-ranked rushing defense in Houston.

How can one possibly weigh the production of both players? One was hobbled, the other was healthy. Want to make a comparison? Kyle Cook is a superior run blocker. And don't use Cook's Pro Football Focus grades in 2012, recovering from a high-ankle sprain, playing zero snaps during NFL competition since the preseason, as evidence. And if you're stuck on that, then ask the more relevant question: Why did the Bengals used Cook in the first place during a major division game that could clinch the postseason -- which they won anyway -- if he wan't 100 percent healthy?

Now, in a bit of irony, Cook is healthy, banging out all first-team repetitions during the team's OTA sessions and last week's mandatory minicamp while Robinson is sidelined until training camp with an injury.

There aren't many training camp battles that will determine a starting position. Starting center will make for a good one; let's leave it at that and determine who should be the starter when the dust settles.

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