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The Bengals are taking this retro-cool thing to a completely new
level. Their coach is Bruce Coslet, a onetime Cincinnati tight
end and offensive coordinator. The backup quarterback is Boomer
Esiason, returning for a second tour with Cincinnati, which he
guided to Super Bowl XXIII. The offensive coordinator is Ken
Anderson, a former Bengals quarterback who in 1981 took the team
to its first Super Bowl. The defensive line coach is Tim
Krumrie, who played noseguard for Cincinnati from 1983 to 1994.
And the defensive coordinator is Dick LeBeau, a native of nearby
London, Ohio, and from 1984 to '91 the Bengals' defensive

LeBeau is the architect of the wildly popular zone-blitz
defense. He spent the last five seasons teaching it to the
Steelers but apparently couldn't say no to the Bengals' 1997
Reunion Tour. "It's great to be back," said LeBeau, who played
cornerback at Ohio State and for the Lions. "This is kind of a
dream come true for me."

In fact, most of the team is just now waking from the
nightmarish regime of former coach Dave Shula, who went 19-52 in
4 1/2 years with Cincinnati. Shula, now the executive vice
president of the chain of steak houses owned by his father, Don,
was replaced by Coslet after the first seven games of last
season. Then, when the Bengals won seven of their last nine,
many players wondered out loud just how good the team would have
been if Coslet had been there from the beginning. Now they will
find out.

Quarterback Jeff Blake certainly improved under Coslet. In his
final nine games, Blake, a Pro Bowl starter in 1995, averaged
249 yards passing and threw 16 TDs. He skipped his family's
vacation during the off-season to lift weights and work on his
throwing skills; he should blossom further under the guidance of
his backup, Esiason. Blake was a third-string QB with the Jets
in 1994 when Esiason was the team's starter. Neither has a
problem with a role reversal, though. "There's no hidden agenda
or motive on my side," says the veteran Esiason. "Jeff is going
to let me retire to greener pastures without having to take hits."

One player the team desperately wants to see revert to his old
form is third-year back Ki-Jana Carter. The No. 1 pick in the
1995 draft, Carter signed a seven-year, $19.2 million contract,
promptly injured his knee in a preseason game and sat out his
entire rookie season. He scored eight TDs over the final nine
weeks in 1996 but reported to the team's first 1997 minicamp
"big, slow and soft," according to trainer Paul Sparling, before
trimming down to 220 pounds.

Adding to the Bengals' explosiveness is one of the AFC's best
receivers, Carl Pickens, whose 100 receptions ranked third in
the league last season. He should become the team's alltime
leading receiver this fall. "There is no next level for Carl,"
says Coslet. "He's one of the top three receivers in the NFL.
Would I trade him for Michael Irvin? No. Would I trade him for
Jerry Rice now? No."

Coslet would probably like to trade a few of his defensive
players, though. The Bengals' defense has long been suspect--it
ranked 25th in the NFL in 1996. Things don't look much more
promising for this year. Left end John Copeland couldn't
bench-press 275 pounds even once at a recent minicamp, and
linebacker James Francis decided to skip 13 weeks of workouts in
Cincinnati during the off-season, thus forfeiting a $250,000

Such a lack of conditioning is a problem, considering that
LeBeau's aggressive 3-4 defense requires speed, cunning and
discipline. But a few Bengals defenders may have the tools to
make things work. Linebacker Rico McDonald, who led the team at
minicamp with 40 bench presses of 225 pounds, will flourish in
the zone blitz. First-round pick Reinard Wilson, who played end
at Florida State, will switch to linebacker in the 3-4, and
tackle Dan Wilkinson (he had a team-high 61/2 sacks in 1996)
will move over to end. Inside linebacker Steve Tovar led the
team in tackles last season with 94--he has fully recovered from
surgery to repair a late-season knee injury--and Ashley Ambrose
(eight interceptions in 1996) was the first Bengals cornerback
to make the Pro Bowl since 1988, the year the team made its last
trip to the Super Bowl.

Now, that's exactly the kind of retro vibe Cincy is hoping to
replay this season. --D.F.

COLOR PHOTO: ROB TRINGALI JR./SPORTSCHROME How good is Pickens? Coach Coslet wouldn't trade him for Irvin or Rice. [Carl Pickens in game]


1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)

1996 Record: 8-8 (third in AFC Central)

Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 112.1 (13) 214.5 (12) 326.6 (10)
DEFENSE 102.7 (12) 239.1 (29) 341.8 (25)

Their Crimes Didn't Pay

Cincinnati's plus-19 turnover differential last year was the
best such figure in the NFL since the 1990 Kansas City Chiefs
finished plus-26. But the Bengals became only the sixth team
since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to lead the league in turnover
differential while failing to notch a winning record.

Best Turnover Differential Year by Year in the 1990s
Record Takeaways Giveaways Diff.
1996 Bengals 8-8 44 25 +19
1995 Chiefs 13-3 33 21 +12
1994 Steelers 12-4 31 17 +14
1993 Chargers 8-8 34 19 +15
1992 Chiefs 10-6 39 21 +18
1991 Saints 11-5 48 30 +18
1990 Chiefs 11-5 45 19 +26

Nonwinning Teams That Led in Turnover Differential since 1970
Record Takeaways Giveaways Diff.
1996 Bengals 8-8 44 25 +19
1993 Chargers 8-8 34 19 +15
1982 Chiefs 3-6 22 12 +10
1977 Falcons 7-7 48 25 +23
1976 Bears 7-7 47 28 +19
1971 Saints 4-8-2 45 25 +20


No player in the NFL deserves a breakout year in 1997 more than
second-year Bengals fullback Brian Milne. At age 17, Milne was
diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and given a 60% chance of
surviving. He beat the illness and went on to win the NCAA
discus title in 1993 and start in the Penn State backfield the
next year. "The reason I've been successful is because of where
I've come from," says Milne, whose thunderous blocking has made
him a team leader. "He's the old-time fullback," says Bengals
coach Bruce Coslet. "He's consistent."

PROJECTED LINEUP With 1996 Statistics

Head Coach: Bruce Coslet

Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Jeff Blake 33[*] 549 att. 308 comp. 56.1%
3,624 yds. 24 TDs 14 int. 80.3 rtg.
RB Ki-Jana Carter 140[*] 91 att. 264 yds. 2.9 avg.
22 rec. 169 yds. 7.7 avg. 9 TDs
FB Brian Milne 261[*] 8 att. 22 yds. 2.8 avg. 3 rec.
29 yds. 9.7 avg. 1 TD

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

WR Carl Pickens 45[*] 100 rec. 1,180 yds. 12 TDs
WR Darnay Scott 142[*] 58 rec. 833 yds. 5 TDs
WR David Dunn 225[*] 32 rec. 509 yds. 1 TD
TE Tony McGee 173[*] 38 rec. 446 yds. 4 TDs
PK Doug Pelfrey 168[*] 41/41 XPs 23/28 FGs 110 pts.
KR Corey Dillon(R)[A] 67[*] 16 ret. 22.3 avg. 0 TDs
PR Corey Sawyer 398[*] 15 ret. 7.8 avg. 0 TDs
LT Kevin Sargent** 6'6" 284 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
LG Rich Braham 6'4" 295 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Darrick Brilz 6'3" 287 lbs. 13 games 13 starts
RG Ken Blackman 6'6" 315 lbs. 13 games 10 starts
RT Willie Anderson 6'5" 325 lbs. 16 games 10 starts


LE John Copeland 41 tackles 3 sacks
NT Kimo von Oelhoffen 15 tackles 1 sack
RE Dan Wilkinson 44 tackles 6 1/2 sacks
OLB James Francis 70 tackles 3 sacks
ILB Steve Tovar 94 tackles 3 sacks
ILB Ricardo McDonald 61 tackles 5 sacks
OLB Reinard Wilson (R)[A] 105 tackles 13 1/2 sacks
CB Ashley Ambrose 50 tackles 8 int.
SS Tremain Mack (R)[A] 70 tackles 1 int.
FS Bo Orlando 84 tackles 2 int.
CB Jimmy Spencer 63 tackles 5 int.
P Lee Johnson 80 punts 45.4 avg.

[A] New Acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)
[*] *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 165)
**1995 Statistics