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Giving Collins reps for remainder of 2009 might serve Bengals best

Team served best if youth learns under fire during dismal season.

Levi Jones, while healthy is a good left tackle, should get healthy now and let Anthony Collins finish the season.

If you think about it, the Bengals will have Anthony Collins next season, a guard/tackle combination in Andrew Whitworth and then Levi Jones. That's for certain. Stacy Andrews could easily bail into free agency once his contract expires this season, and the health of Jones is a growing concern (OK, it's a super-big concern). What's the mainstream thought of whom the Bengals are going to draft? An offensive tackle: Michael Oher, Andre Smith (if he comes out), Phil Loadholt, Alex Boone.

Where would Jones go?

Even with the terrifying prospect that Anthony Collins will make his first career start against Pittsburgh's James Harrison, there's a lot to look forward to. He is, after all, the future of the team's younger generation of offensive linemen. Now would be a great time to accumulate reps, allowing him the chance to finish the season so Levi Jones can focus on getting 100% healed for 2009. One would have to assume that Jones' qualification to sticking with the team would be getting healthy; provided what we're seeing is a result of health issues. That's ala Bengals, playing the character "Rudi Johnson", presented by Levi Jones. In preparation of Andrews leaving, keep Jones and draft a lineman. In preparation of Jones leaving (ala Willie Anderson), sign Andrews and draft a lineman. I prefer the latter, but expect the former.

Now that's a bunch of pesky "ifs", similar to how we approached running backs this off-season. Remember we were told that Rudi Johnson looked great. Then he got hurt, was shopped, forced to wait, later cut, checked out motor city gig, and signed a deal. Of course, Chris Perry's season was critical, make-or-break, instead he sucked, sucked some more, then watched Cedric Benson sign, start, while Perry brooded. Essentially, we hoped for the best and were answered with the worst (ala, Cincinnati Bengals, American government).

So the obvious answer to all this, based on the history of happy-pray time, is to build your offensive line with youth as quickly as you can, extending beyond this season's introduction of Collins. You don't have to cut Jones, like you didn't have to cut Willie Anderson. Get Anthony Collins in there, let him learn the game under fire, and let Jones focus on his rehab. Find a way to get Stacy Andrews signed long-term and you have a much improved offensive line. There's always that one guy lurking with comments of "what if he's terrible." And that guy would be wise to ask.

For a time, Collins could be terrible, learning to play in the NFL will be a lesson on how advanced the game is played. Remember, this should be his senior year at Kansas, so he could very well be terrible to start. He'll grow into the game with time, eventually becoming a foundation of the team's youth movement. But he needs the reps, as many as possible.