BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The assumption is that Jeff Blake will report for work at the Bengals' Spinney Field headquarters today, be summoned to Bruce Coslet's office, learn that he has been waived, share a private, emotional moment with the coach who furthered his career as an NFL quarterback and leave to await a phone call from his next employer.
But a chance exists that the story might not unfold so simply. The Bengals looked dismal offensively in Friday night's preseason finale, a 17-0 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. They gained just eight first downs and 155 yards as reserve quarterback Paul Justin, who played six series, completed 4-of-10 passes for 36 yards.
Those results prompt revisionist thinking:
Obviously the Bengals don't want to pay Blake the $1.95 million base salary he's due this year. Nor will he accept a restructured contract that will pay him about $1 million.
But maybe the Bengals can't afford to lose Blake. Maybe it's worth paying him to keep him as a backup in case starter Neil O'Donnell, who has played all 16 games only once in his previous eight seasons, suffers another injury.
The team's hierarchy remained mum Saturday on Blake and others as coaches pondered today's cuts that will trim the roster to the 53-man season-opening limit. It's obvious that these final decisions, including any regarding Blake, won't be easy.
"I think it's best we sleep on it," Coslet said. "We'll have to make a decision (today) by 4 p.m. and we'll probably go all the way right up to (that time) to make it."
Justin didn't improve his status against the Falcons, though he had the disadvantage of playing with Cincinnati's second team against Atlanta's starting defense.
"I've seen him play better," Coslet said. "He wasn't going through his progressions, for whatever reason, like he did a week or so ago. For some reason, he was throwing the ball real hard -- just winding up and blowing it in there. He has to get that out of his game. Coslet leavened his criticism by adding, "Sometimes you regress a little bit, but then you take a quantum leap forward. That's just part of learning a new system."
Learning more about Justin and Eric Kresser, who quarterbacked the final series against Atlanta, was a chief priority for Coslet, who reiterated that he told Blake before the game he wouldn't play because he already knows all about him.
"I know what he's all about," Coslet said. "I know what he can do. I know his strengths and weaknesses. I don't know that about Justin or Kresser."
Coslet explained the brevity of O'Donnell's two-series stint by pointing out that he wanted to keep the starting quarterback with an offensive line that needed to stay healthy.
"I have one guy with a broken foot (Rich Braham), one guy coming back from back surgery (Ken Blackman), one guy who's never been in camp for the last four years (Kevin Sargent), and (Darrick) Brilz is a 12-year veteran, so I wanted to get them off the field," Coslet said. "I didn't want to expose Neil to Atlanta's first defense without our first line in there. So that's why I took him out, too, even though he needed to play more."
Coslet and his staff face numerous personnel issues besides Blake's status in solving the jigsaw puzzle of today's cuts.
"If we keep this guy, then that means we'll do something else at a diferent position, or this linebacker's in competition with this tight end for special teams," Coslet said. "What do we do if there's somebody else available on the last cut from another team? There's a lot of different things we're talking about."
Notebook: Dillon should be ready
Oilers ready for Bengals