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5 cincinnati Bengals
Peter King
September 03, 2001
Unfortunately for Dick LeBeau, three quarterbacks are not better than one
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September 03, 2001

5 Cincinnati Bengals

Unfortunately for Dick LeBeau, three quarterbacks are not better than one

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PROJECTED LINEUP with 2000 statistics

COACH: Dick LeBeau; second season with Cincinnati (4-9 in NFL)

2000 RECORD: 4-12 (fifth in AFC Central) NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 2/31/29; defense 24/23/22

OFFENSIVE BACKS

QB

John Kitna#

154*

418 att.

259 comp.

62.0%

2,658 yds.

18 TDs

19 int.

75.6 rtg.

RB

Corey Dillon

44*

315 att.

1.435 yds.

4.6 avg.

18 rec.

158 yds.

8.8 avg.

7 TDs

RB

Brandon Bennett

192*

90 att.

324 yds.

3.6 avg.

19 rec.

168 yds.

8.8 avg.

3 TDs

FB

Lorenzo Neal#

288*

1 att.

-2 yds.

-2.0 avg.

9 rec.

31 yds.

3.4 avg.

2 TDs

RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

WR

Darnay Scott?

108*

68 rec.

1,022 yds.

7 TDs

WR

Peter Warrick

93*

51 rec.

592 yds.

4 TDs

WR

Chad Johnson (R)#

253*

37 rec.

806 yds.

8 TDs

TE

Tony McGee

241*

26 rec.

309 yds.

1 TD

K

Neil Rackers

295*

21/21 XPs

12/21 FGs

57 pts.

PR

Peter Warrick

93*

7 ret.

17.6 avg.

1 TD

KR

Tremain Mack

374*

50 ret.

20.7 avg.

0 TDs

LT

Richmond Webb

6'6"

325 lbs.

14 games

14 starts

LG

Matt O'Dwyer

6'5"

313 lbs.

10 games

10 starts

C

Rich Braham

6'4"

309 lbs.

9 games

9 starts

RG

Mike Goff

6'5"

311 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

RT

Willie Anderson

6'5"

340 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

DEFENSE

LE

Vaughn Booker

17 tackles

0 sacks

LT

Oliver Gibson

52 tackles

4 sacks

RT

Tony Williams#

43 tackles

4 sacks

RE

Justin Smith (R)#

97 tackles

11 sacks

OLB

Steve Foley

43 tackles

4 sacks

MLB

Brian Simmons

9 tackles

1 sack

OLB

Takeo Spikes

128 tackles

2 sacks

CB

Rodney Heath

44 tackles

0 int.

SS

Cory Hall

41 tackles

4 sacks

FS

Chris Carter

60 tackles

1 int.

CB

Artrell Hawkins

47 tackles

0 int.

P

Daniel Pope

94 punts

40.2 avg.

#New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)
?1999 statistics

Every year they fly into Cincinnati excited to be Bengals, thinking they'll be the ones to turn around this Titanic of a franchise. After quarterback Akili Smith was drafted in 1999, he talked of leading Cincinnati to the Super Bowl in his hometown, San Diego, in 2003. There were similar Super thoughts last year from bright-eyed receiver-return man Peter Warrick. "I'm going to be part of the solution here, not part of the problem," Warrick said. "I'm going to get this thing turned around."

What inevitably follows is the crush of reality, which hits as the bottom quickly falls out. (The Bengals haven't had a winning season since 1990.) Last year that crush hit Warrick as Cincinnati fell to an 0-6 start, including shutout losses to the Jaguars, the Ravens and the Steelers. "I'd go home after games and cry," says Warrick, who lost the on-field support of fellow wideout Darnay Scott (broken leg) at the start of camp last summer. "I'd never lost in youth leagues, high school or college, and then I came here. It was just...unbelievable."

This season? "Well," Warrick says, "we can't get no worse." Don't bet on it. The Bengals are an NFL-worst 11-37 over the past three years, and who among the players imported over the off-season can possibly keep Cincinnati out of the AFC Central basement? This season's candidate is turnover-prone former Seahawk Jon Kitna, the league's 23rd-rated quarterback in 2000. He won the starting job in a dubious three-man race in the preseason. Kitna's fanfareless signing—to a modest four-year deal worth $7-12 million based on playing time, when no other team in the NFL was offering him even a remote shot at a starting job—left the door slightly open for Smith and 12-year veteran Scott Mitchell. But Smith was hampered in camp by tendinitis in his throwing shoulder and finished a distant third, in part because the Bengals are intrigued with Kitna, in part because they've tired of Smith's erratic arm and in part because Mitchell at least showed some spark, leading the offense to 17 points in two quarters of Cincinnati's second preseason game, at Detroit. The Bengals do at least have the league's two best players at something: Last year Kitna led the NFL in fumbles with 17; Smith was second with 15.

The book on Kitna is that he's a gutsy leader who's well liked by everyone in the locker room. Problem is, that goes for both locker rooms. He frequently makes glaring mistakes at critical times. During Cincinnati's first intrasquad scrimmage this summer, on second-and-goal from the six, he rolled right and threw a misdirection floater to the left flat, aiming for tight end Tony McGee; the interception was easy pickings for cornerback Artrell Hawkins. "We'll have a lot more practices and a lot more sharpness in the future," Kitna vowed after the scrimmage. But against the Lions in the preseason, with no Bengal within catching distance, Kitna threw the ball right into the breadbasket of linebacker Barrett Green. Two weeks later against Buffalo, Kitna fumbled twice and was sacked three times in two quarters. Moral of the story: When Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren picked Matt Hasselbeck, Brock Huard and Trent Dilfer over Kitna this off-season, he knew what he was doing.

Even with prolific running back Corey Dillon (4,894 yards in four seasons), the offense is impotent. Last year Cincinnati broke the team record for fewest points in a season, scoring 185 in 16 games. "We proved we could run the ball as well as anyone in the league," says Ken Anderson, who was demoted from offensive coordinator to quarterbacks coach after the debacle. "But when Darnay Scott went down, we lost our speed at receiver, and we couldn't play consistently at quarterback." Actually, the quarterbacks played horrendously, completing 45.6% of their passes—a number right out of the 1950s. There's no reason to believe that Smith will ever pay dividends on the staggering $10.8 million bonus he received for being the third pick in the '99 draft.

The Bengals made a smart move in hiring former Seahawks and Steelers assistant Bob Bratkowski as offensive coordinator. He plans to use three wideouts on at least half the plays to spread the field and prevent defenses from loading eight men near the line to stop Dillon. Bratkowski will also use different combinations of receivers from among Scott (who looked good in camp), Warrick, second-round pick Chad Johnson and second-year man Ron Dugans. Any innovations will help, considering 10 of the Bengals' 16 games are against teams that had defenses ranked among the top dozen in the NFL last year.

"In this offense," Warrick says, "the throwers have to throw and the catchers have to catch. We know what we have in Corey." Unfortunately for the Bengals, they also know what they have under center.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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