Bengals mail: Will OT be in draft plans?

CINCINNATI -- It's only November, and already we're talking about next spring's NFL draft.

Yes, you read that right.

The Cincinnati Bengals don't even know where they'll be picking next year, but we're devoting some attention to at least one possible draft scenario in this week's Bengals mailbag.

If you happened to catch the following link on ESPN.com's NFL page earlier this week, then you know that it really is never too early to talk about the NFL draft. Before you know it, Todd McShay and Mel Kiper will be mainstays on your televisions.

@ColeyHarvey: Yes, av, you are absolutely right. The draft is a long, long, long way away. But we'll indulge you and other readers who I'm sure have been wondering the same thing this past week. Marshall Newhouse certainly had a bad game last Thursday against the Browns, as he was regularly turned around by pass rushers off the right edge. He finished with a minus-6.6 overall grade from Pro Football Focus after allowing three quarterback hurries, a quarterback hit and a sack. He hasn't fared all that well all season, in fact, earning a team-low minus-5.9 overall grade from the website. Then again, as bad as those figures are, he isn't the only one who has played poorly at the position this season. Starting right tackle Andre Smith hasn't fared much better, with untimely penalties serving as his bugaboo.

It appears that for the second straight week, the Bengals will be forced to start Newhouse, as Smith was listed as doubtful on Friday's injury report with an ankle injury that dates back two weeks. Since he'll have other opportunities, I'd like to give Newhouse a little more of a chance to prove himself before completely writing him off as a backup next season. We'll see if he holds his own this week with a pair of tough defensive ends in New Orleans. If he can't, then yes, it might be time to start evaluating college offensive tackles. With Newhouse only on a one-year contract this season, the Bengals have reason to court tackles in a few months.

@ColeyHarvey: It's far too late to be making any massive, wholesale tweaks to the playbook, Charles. What the Bengals can do, though, is maybe adjust their philosophy a bit. It seems like last week they got away far too early from the run, and once they got behind, it became difficult to go back to it. It definitely would have helped quarterback Andy Dalton last week to have a good running game that could have balanced the offense and helped ease some of the pressure Dalton had to be feeling in the prime-time game. By running the ball consistently, teams also keep their offensive linemen aggressive. That seemed to be an issue in last week's 24-3 loss, too. The Bengals were way too passive, soft even. If they are to win in a hostile road environment Sunday, they will need to be more physical. None of that excuses the quarterback from his miscues, though. Dalton has to remain calm and confident in the pocket, and simply be more accurate. He missed several passes he normally hits with ease.

@ColeyHarvey: Not long, Tanner. It appears Bernard is easing back into playing time. All three days this week, he participated in some type of on-field conditioning and agility activity while his teammates practiced. That's a clear sign that he's taking steps to get back on the field soon. It also was the first time he had gone through any type of on-field routine in three weeks, when he was first shelved following a series of physical hits he had taken in his last few games. Will he be back next week? It's too early to say that definitively. One thing is for certain: The Bengals aren't going to trot Bernard back out onto the field until he's as close to 100 percent as possible. Remember, he's only in his second season, and they'd like him to spend several more healthy years in Cincinnati.

@ColeyHarvey: Joe, getting healthy is a big part of what the Bengals need to do defensively. Specifically, they need to get linebacker Vontaze Burfict back from the knee surgery that has had him out the last three weeks. He's the linchpin in this defense; through him, the entire unit operates at its best. Without their chief playcaller and defensive quarterback, communication has been difficult. Execution has been even worse. Aside from getting healthy, they need to fit better in run gaps and maintain assignments. As multiple players have mentioned to me, they have had a tendency this year of voiding their responsibilities and overpursuing when plays break down. That overpursuit has led to big runs and a plethora of missed tackles. Clean all that up and they've got a chance.

@ColeyHarvey: I wouldn't say defensive tackles by themselves are the problem. They haven't gotten much consistent help from the ends, and as mentioned above, the revolving door of linebackers has been an issue, too. The entire unit is struggling, giving defensive coordinator Paul Guenther headaches. Getting better push from the line's interior in both passing and running situations would certainly help, though. That's where Geno Atkins and Brandon Thompson become important. Consider this for perspective: The Bengals have just 13 sacks compared to 30 at this time last year.