BB: Bengals Linebackers, Justin Blackmon and Geno Smith

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Here's a fact: The Bengals are stocked with linebackers. Will another college free agent rise or has the team run out of room for underdog stories?

We're not composing letters about training camp battles on May 1, 2013. Players will come and go -- though one would reasonably point out that any roster changes aren't likely to be that significant at this point. Yet foolish is the one that discounts those things. Regardless, we're not going there.

Nope.

Taking a look at the roster, analyzing the position makes sense. Why not. Much has changed over the weekend with the NFL draft and the re-acquisition of old friends tightening familiar cleats. Nothing will be determined during spring and summer practices that prohibit contact. Someone will be released and the Bengals will sign a comfortable player or two. Marvin Lewis tells us that he's expecting linebacker Thomas Howard to return. Linebacker is loaded, but hardly locked with certainty.

Rey Maualuga is projected as the starting middle linebacker. Starting weak-side backer Vontaze Burfict will backup Maualuga inside. Howard, if he signs with a rehabilitated knee, may backup Burfict. An alternative could be that Howard's return slides Burfict inside, keeping Howard as the starting WILL while Maualuga backs up Burfict and James Harrison at strong-side linebacker.

Choices.

We do know that betting the house for those four to make the 53-man roster is a wise bet. Provided Howard returns with a rehabilitated knee. But we've already pointed that out.

That would theoretically leave eight linebackers (as of this posting and if Howard returns) to compete for the remaining two spots, assuming that the Bengals carry six on the roster -- like they have every year dating back to 2007 (save for 2011). Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lamur appear as early favorites for special teams contributions -- don't forget about Marvin's mini-mancrush with Lamur last year. Sean Porter carries weight as a fifth-round draft pick (not much) that could work special teams. Even Bruce Taylor and Jayson DiManche are peaking our interest.

Optimism glamour. Possibilities inciting probabilities without the evidence of on-field work to strengthen arguments builds momentum. Eventually everyone makes offseason arguments that every player on the roster will be Pro Bowl eligible. It happens with paper fantasy scenarios in May, June and July.

Yet there's suspicions. No two players face a greater need to prove something than Dontay Moch and Aaron Maybin. Not betting the house, but it could be difficult for both; though Moch appears to be giving it a go as a defensive end. Brandon Joiner is a wild card, and J.K. Schaffer intends to prove someone wrong. Problem is that space is limited on the active roster -- but not the practice squad.

Maybe Howard doesn't return. This would create an opportunity for someone else, but can anyone honestly make an argument for any bubble player being more productive than Howard? Granted. The argument isn't about production or talent. It's all about his knee. Regardless, no one should carelessly disregard Howard. He was the team's best linebacker in 2011 and a freak accident during practice turned him into a forgotten warrior on a seventh-ranked defense.

+ Bengals linebackers coach Paul Guenther.

"I love undrafted guys," Guenther says. "I take great pride in guys nobody wants and helping making them a productive NFL player. I like to get guys who have no knowledge of what we're doing. You can teach them from ground zero and go from there. Hopefully these new college free agents we've got do the same thing."

Normally you'd wonder why the Bengals can't just get a prospect linebacker early during the NFL draft. Well, they're not in the position of need right now. Cincinnati has the strange luxury of developing talent from the ground up. There's no rush to develop Jayson DiManche or Bruce Taylor, or even Brandon Joiner who is by all practical purposes a rookie too.

+ If Michael Johnson doesn't sign a long-term extension before the July 15 deadline, he will be under one-year deal worth $11.2 million in 2013. How does he spend his time? Studying for his finals.

+ The NFL announced on Tuesday that Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon will serve a four-game suspension for violating the league's Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. He'll serve the suspension during the first four games of the regular season in 2013.

“I’ve made a mistake and I have no excuse. I am truly sorry and disappointed in myself for putting the Jaguars in this situation, and I look forward to putting this behind me and maturing and growing as a person. I will have a productive training camp and pre-season with my team, and during the suspension I will work hard to stay in top football shape and be ready to help the Jaguars when I return. I have chosen to be accountable for my poor decision, and I sincerely apologize to my teammates, coaches, the front office and Jaguars fans for the impact of my mistake on the team.”

Obviously the word "idiot" comes to mind. But don't sell us the "mistake" song and dance. Hours of league-mandated education, practical observations, historical awareness of mistakes made by those before, disqualifies the "idiot" label. This is wilful neglect of one's most basic responsibilities. We're not even going to talk about letting people down; that's his consequence.

Another consequence?

Losing his guaranteed money and any security of keeping his job in Jacksonville (though no one really believes he'll be cut).

+ Geno Smith, projected early as a top-ten pick, wasn't selected during the first round. Instead he courageously returned to Radio City Music Hall for the cameras and a media drive story during Friday's second-round. How did Smith react after being selected by the New York Jets?

How about this? Smith was as good as a horrible quarterback class allowed him to be; though it's hard to believe that his slide was a result of his agent. It's probable that teams didn't see the value when they were on the clock. Prove 'em wrong, Geno. Just don't act like that you're above 'em.

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