Mailbag: Is Hawkins return that important and where will Pressley fit?

Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

We're thinking about things. Is Hawkins' return really that important? How will Chris Pressley fit, if at all? And remember when the Bengals almost didn't draft Giovani Bernard?

How important is Andrew Hawkins?

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There's a lot of talk about Andrew Hawkins coming of Injured Reserve in a couple weeks, which will hopefully give the Bengals offense a bit of spark. If there's any player on the offensive roster not named A.J. Green that can generate excitement, it's Hawkins. We go back to Cleveland last year when the Bengals were winning 24-17 early in the fourth quarter. Andy Dalton was scrambling and found the improvising Hawkins over the middle for a 50-yard touchdown.

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It was the type of play that your celebrated touchdown was transcribed as "AR;JEOLFN VCX,MATOA"

Go ahead, watch the play a few more times. You're going to anyway. I'll wait.

(tapping watch)

During training camp this year, Hawkins suffered a high-ankle sprain when Terence Newman stepped on his ankle during a session inside Paul Brown Stadium. Later placed on Injured Reserve with a designation to return, Hawkins has finally reached practice eligibility this week and, if everything goes well, could make his season debut against the Miami Dolphins on Thursday Night Football.

Here's the thing.

After the first three games in '12, Hawkins was on pace for 1,109 yards receiving. After that, crickets. Hawkins never surpassed 44 yards in any of the final 13 games last year; including a two-reception, 15-yard effort against the Texans in the playoffs. His explosiveness and separation wasn't there; though he was still a reliable target or Dalton, completing five or more receptions in four of the final 13, along with two touchdowns.

However, Hawkins is explosive and his improvisation gives Cincinnati a dimension that they don't have right now. Dynamics, versatility, and the unexpected.

That being said, Hawkins reminded me somewhat of Andre Caldwell, who despite his own disappearing acts during his four-year stay in Cincinnati, still strung together big plays and decent performances. In the final three games in 2010, Caldwell generated 270 yards receiving on 15 receptions, including two catches of over 40 yards. Remember the game-winning touchdowns against the Steelers and Ravens in '09? No, I'm not making the direct comparison. Only that one reminded me of the other in regards to general production; an important distinction.

Yet, you have to ask yourself, what will Hawkins give the Bengals that they're not already receiving?

You're going to downsize the participation of Mohamed Sanu or Marvin Jones to give Hawkins snaps and the team is already fifth in the NFL with 884 yards after the catch. A.J. Green (4) is the only wide receiver with more touchdowns than Marvin Jones (2), and you've already seen what the second-year player has done with his opportunities. Sanu is second on the team in receptions and yards receiving, on pace to generate 61 receptions and nearly 600 yards receiving; just south of what Hawkins produced in 2012.

On the other hand, you can't replicate Hawkins speed, quickness, and excitement level. Give him the ball in the open field and his ability reaches levels of magic. He certainly isn't a downgrade when the team re-introduces him to the offense; but is he an upgrade?

Keep in mind, this isn't a manifesto for or against Hawkins. Despite the fact that he blocked us on twitter for god knows what reason (I don't tweet players directly), he's a favorite of mine. Does that mean he should be thrown in the starting lineup ASAP?

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

***

What are the chances that Chris Pressley joins the Bengals 53-man roster this year?

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The answer to that question depends on Cincinnati's overall impression with tight end Alex Smith. Currently Smith is part of Cincinnati's run package, specifically during short-yardage opportunities as a third tight end (sometimes as an H-back). According to Pro Football Focus' grading scale, Smith has the highest overall blocking score (pass and run) among all of the team's tight ends; though the sample size is limited to only 63 offensive snaps.

So why are you suggesting Smith and not Orson Charles?

That would be an admission of failure. Despite his contributions, Smith was a free agent that the team signed two weeks prior to the NFL draft, designed to give Cincinnati depth. Charles was a fourth-round pick that the team publicly described on Hard Knocks as a converting H-back.

There are two questions that have to be asked to answer this question.

One, is Pressley even healthy enough to play for the Bengals this year? As a player on the Physically Unable to Perform list, if Pressley hasn't practiced by November 19, the team will be forced to cut him or place him on season-ending Injured Reserve (theoretically, they can do that now, provided that he's cleared by doctors).

Two, are the Bengals seriously considering the need for a full-time fullback anyway? I continue to reflect on the Hard Knocks finale when they cut ties with John Conner in favor of Orson Charles; mostly because the team favored Charles as a special teams player. Hue Jackson, plain as day, said that the Bengals don't use a traditional fullback anyway. Being as Pressley is not an offensive weapon, save for his atomic-sized shoulder, works against him. In 43 games played, Pressley has six career receptions and two attempted carries. He's the guy that you accidentally throw to in Madden; I swear it was the "LB" button!

Would you rather have Pressley as a fullback in short-yardage situations? Of course. The squatty bulldozer could knockout a Transformer. But consider that they've been using Domata Peko and Alex Smith with relative success, both of whom play other positions.

Will the Bengals release someone for Pressley, who only plays one position? Orson Charles perhaps? Doubtful. They want to continue his development as an offensive player (though not during games), and he plays mostly every special teams snap. Plus, we're back to the whole admission of failure point.

Alex Smith? Again, maybe. If they have a need a third tight end, they have Charles. Yet, if they have a need for a third tight end in short-yardage situations, they've downgraded.

As Cincinnati turns.

***

Remember when the Bengals almost didn't draft running back Giovani Bernard?

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Recall that during the second day of the NFL draft, Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith was in the middle of negotiations leaving Cincinnati somewhat unsure about their first of two second-round picks in the 2013 NFL draft. After he signed, Bengals owner Mike Brown took Smith to the draft room, prior to their first second-round pick, where Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson was listed at the top of their draft board at the time.

Can you imagine how that would have turned out?

Watson, who was drafted in the second round by the Raiders, had his knee scoped last month after suffering an injury during practice leading up to the regular season opener. He returned to practice two weeks ago but has been dealing with recurring calf problems. Watson hasn't played yet this year.

"It’s a calf," coach Dennis Allen said last week via the San Francisco Gate. "It’s really the same calf that he’s had problems with. So obviously it’s frustrating for him, it’s frustrating for us that we haven’t been able to really have him out there. We’ve had him maybe a total of 10 days since the start of training camp. "Once he gets healthy, then we have to have an opportunity to evaluate him and see what we have."

Bernard, on the other hand, leads all rookies with 438 yards from scrimmage while tied with A.J. Green with a team-leading four touchdowns.

Sometimes, things just happen for a reason. Smith signed a contract just prior to the team's second-round selection, which led to Cincinnati pulling the trigger on Giovani Bernard. Had Smith not signed, where would the Bengals be today without one of the more exciting running backs in the game today?

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