Fay: Is Vontaze Burfict the guy the Bengals can't live without?

CINCINNATI -- Let’s start off by saying the disaster that is the Bengals season is not Marvin Lewis’ fault. No coach could win with that offensive line.

But enough falls to Lewis’ blame that it could cost him his job. Take Sunday’s loss 24-20 at Tennessee: Twelve penalties for 84 yards. How many kept drives alive?

One-for-10 on third downs offensively. Tennessee was 7-for-15 on third down. A lot of that falls on coaching. 

So I think Lewis and his staff could take the fall for this season that is a reeling toward somewhere between awful and abysmal. 

Is that fair? No.

But you spend the No. 9 pick on John Ross, and he’s the target once? The second half is a disaster in nearly every game? Your defensive backs don’t seem to know the holding rules?

But if I’m Marvin and I’m defending my job, I say to Mike Brown one thing: Your dad could not win with this offense line. Hell, Jim Brown could not average 4 yards a carry behind this line.

Conspiracy theory alert: Did Mike give Marvin this line knowing this season was lost and it would justify a big shakeup?

Burfict?

Vontaze Burfict should not have been called for the unnecessary roughness penalty. He was trying to pull up, and he hit DeMarco Murray — and hit may be too strong of a word.

Whatever Burfict did on the next play, he should not have — although from the video I saw, the referee should be suspended for ejecting Burfict. 

Here’s the real question: The Bengals gave up seven points after the ejection, so is Burfict a guy they can’t live without?

Catch-22

Tucker Barnhart winning the Gold Glove was merely confirmation of how good he is defensively. Fangraphs.com ranked him the third best defender at any position. He had 21 defensive runs saved. Martin Maldonado of the Angels was second among catchers with 10.

The fact that the Reds signed Barnhart through 2021 tells you he’s the catcher of the future. Where does that leave Devin Mesoraco? As a $13.125 million backup, I’d guess.

As hard as that is to swallow, signing Mesoraco to the deal the Reds signed him to at the time made perfect sense. I do think if Mesoraco proves healthy — a mighty big if — they’ll be able to move him at some point next season. He’s in the last year of that contract. 

Top 10

Baseball America is out with its top 10 Reds prospects. Nick Senzel, the Reds’ top prospect, is on the cover. Headline: “Senz-innati.” 

Senzel should get to the big leagues some time in 2018. I’m surprised the Reds haven’t played him at second base or left field. That’ll change this year because Eugenio Suarez is entrenched at third. 

Here’s the list:

  1. Senzel 
  2. RHP Hunter Green, 102-mph kid and the No. 2 pick overall in the this year’s draft.
  3. RF Taylor Trammell, a five-tool corner outfielder, only 20.
  4. RHP Tyler Mahle, best numbers of anyone in the minors. 
  5. OF Jesse Winker, doing what he did with the Reds (.298, 7 HRs in 121 at-bats) was huge.
  6. RHP Tony Santillan, second-rounder in ’15, throws 98 mph.
  7. CF Jose Siri, had a 39-game hitting streak at Dayton. Five-tool player.
  8. 2B Shed Long, 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, but shows good power.
  9. RHP Vladimir Gutierrez, Cuban signed $4.75 million in ‘16
  10. C Tyler Stephenson, No. 1 pick in ’15. He’s struggled with injuries.  

BA is big on high-ceiling guys. It’s pretty good sign when your No. 5 prospect, Winker, looks like a .300 hitter/.380 on-base guy.

Joey Knows

Joey Votto became the favorite of the baseball scribes when he said this upon being named a MVP finalist:

"I feel like typically the voting done by the Baseball Writers' Association is the most objective, the most researched, and I think the points system helps. A lot of the other awards don't have that sort of system, so there's a reason why the Cy Young and the Most Valuable Player and the Managers of the Year, that those awards have quite a bit of history to them and they're very distinguished awards. And the players respect the people that win those awards because they know that they've passed a lot of tests to get that."

BBWAA members take the vote seriously and do the research. The Players Choice Awards are a joke. Guys sit at their lockers and call out: “Which second baseman is having a good year?” That’s not research.

Watch Eliel

The player to watch with UC basketball is Eliel Nsoseme, the kid from the Congo by way of Toronto. He’s 6-foot-9, athletic and he plays extremely hard. 

He did not play in shoes or on basketball hoop with nets until 2 1/2 years ago. He speaks five languages. English is the fifth. But he’s fluent in basketball. 

“The first couple of practices, he shocked all of us,” senior Gary Clark said. “He was constantly getting rebounds. We saw Eliel was going to always bring energy. If he doesn't know what to do, he’s still going to find a way to get his hand on the ball when the shot’s taken. A lot saw his energy in practice. You’ve got to try to match it."

Division I and II

The regional matchups in Division I and II in high school football are ideal. I’d rate St. Xavier and Colerain and LaSalle and Winton Woods at a pick-‘em in both cases. 

LaSalle and Winton are particularly interesting. Winton Woods can score seemingly at will, while LaSalle’s defense is really good.  

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at johnfayman@aol.com.

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