Work in Sports
Potential offensive firepower may be saving grace
The Cincinnati Bengals, 4-12 last season, open their training camp with a new starting quarterback in a new stadium trying to rid themselves of a decade of frustrations. Here are a few questions from Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z, followed by CNNSI.com's perspective on some of the issues facing the Bengals this season. You can find SI's season preview on CNNSI.com on Aug. 23.
Dr. Z wants to know:
1.) Why are so many people unhappy in Cincinnati, make that why are so many stars unhappy? I'm talking about guys like Carl Pickens, Corey Dillon, et al. The sun shines, the horse pastures of Kentucky are right across the river, there are some terrific restaurants, and the pay is good -- about 100 times the amount their daddies earned.
2.) Will QB Akili Smith be the next superstar to say "I've got to get out of here?"
3.) OK, I know, I'm being unfair, but can you really go into training camp with heads held high when Dillon, your top runner, says he's being held in bondage and will quit when he's played just enough games to qualify for the pension, and Pickens, the top receiver, is listed as gone, even though he's still, technically, on the roster?
4.) Did you notice that the Bengals, at times, played with heart and verve last year-they certainly didn't give up-and do you get the sneaking suspicion that Bruce Coslet, underneath it all, is a pretty good offensive coach? Or do you feel that the turmoil is simply too great in this organization for anyone to survive for long?
The Bengals can make the playoffs if ... everything -- and we mean everything -- goes right. In the passing game, second-year quarterback Akili Smith has to gel immediately with the incumbent receiver Darnay Scott and the team's No. 1 pick, Florida State WR Peter Warrick. The running game, if there is to be one with or without Corey Dillon, will have to give at least a threat of a run or the passing game won't work -- even with the threat of a three-wideout set. And the team's 25th-ranked defense, which gave up an NFL-worst 28.8 points a game last season, has a long way to go. It has some decent linebackers but little else, and the pass "defense" allowed more than 237 yards a game in '99. Re-signing old Bengal FS Darryl Williams and drafting two corners may not be enough.
Pivotal Games : No need to worry about prime time with these guys. The Bengals open their season and christen Paul Brown Stadium against Cleveland on Sept. 10 (the Bengals have a bye in Week 1). Wouldn't a loss there spoil things for the Bengals? It would be almost as bad as losing to the hated Browns in Cleveland on Oct. 29.
On the Hot Seat : Head coach Bruce Coslet starts his fourth full season at the Bengals' helm on everybody's list as a likely-to-be-canned, though that's not the way Bengals owner Mike Brown works. Coslet's contract, though, only runs through 2000. You do the math.
Up-and-comers : LBs Takeo Spikes, Brian Simmons and Steve Foley will be busy. Rookie third-round pick Ron Dugans, another WR from Florida State, could make a difference. And QB Smith is at least showing signs he wants to be the leader of this team.