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


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.


COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES By spreading the field with three-receiver sets, the Bengals hope to keep Dillon from getting tattooed.


an opposing team's scout sizes up the Bengals

"As usual, the Bengals spent a lot of money in free agency on
players way past their prime: Richmond Webb, Kevin Henry, Lorenzo
Neal, Jon Kitna. Well, I'm not sure Kitna ever had a prime....
Big problem at quarterback. When your coach enters camp saying
it's an open competition among three guys, that means he knows he
doesn't have a quarterback. Akili Smith is too inaccurate to play
in the NFL, pure and simple. Scott Mitchell has had 100 chances
and blown them all. So I guess Kitna deserves it, though he turns
the ball over too much.... The Bengals' hope is in the hands of
one guy: Corey Dillon. He's one of the most devastating forces in
the league: He'll run over you, run around you and juke you. What
he's accomplished behind a patchwork line is astonishing. No back
in the league could do more on Cincinnati's team.... If Darnay
Scott comes back from his broken leg, he and Peter Warrick will
be formidable. They both separate well, and even though Warrick
dropped too many last year, he's got good hands.... I wouldn't
want any of their offensive linemen to start on my team. Instead
of taking Justin Smith first in the draft, they should have
traded down and stolen the best tackle in the draft, Kenyatta
Walker.... Takeo Spikes makes a lot of plays. He's got a
Seau-like knack for being around the ball.... No pass rush. Awful
cover guys at corner. Cincinnati should be 31st in the league
against the pass."


16 at Tennessee
30 at San Diego
Oct. 7 at Pittsburgh
28 at Detroit
Nov. 4 Open date
11 at Jacksonville
25 at Cleveland
16 at N.Y. Jets
23 at Baltimore

NFL rank: 16 (tie)
Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .496
Games against playoff teams: 5

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


QB Jon Kitna[N] 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[N] 288 1 att. -2 yds. -2.0 avg. 9 rec.
31 yds. 3.4 avg. 2 TDs



WR Darnay Scott[1] 108 68 rec. 1,022 yds. 7 TDs
WR Peter Warrick 93 51 rec. 592 yds. 4 TDs
WR Chad Johnson(R)[N]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[N] 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


LE Vaughn Booker 17 tackles 0 sacks
LT Oliver Gibson 52 tackles 4 sacks
RT Tony Williams[N] 43 tackles 4 sacks
RE Justin Smith(R)[N]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.

[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)
[1]1999 statistics

"What Dillon has accomplished behind a patchwork offensive line
is astonishing."