The kickoff: Conversation with Coslet
On the eve of training camp, coach Bruce Coslet sat down with Geoff Hobson of bengals.com to explain why he's encouraged and why he believes he still has the players' confidence after two frustrating seasons at 3-13 and 4-12.
HOBSON: How do you turn this thing around?
COSLET: We have to play well early. I'm in a hurry. The players are in a hurry. We have to attack everything we do. Every meeting. Every practice. It has to be important and it has to be productive. Because the end result is you play better and we have to play better early because we have a hell of a hard schedule. (The NFL) did us no favors. We open with Cleveland and they'll be a lot better. Then it's Jacksonville, Baltimore, Miami, Tennessee. Three playoff teams and Baltimore almost went. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. One after the other. We've got to do well early.
HOBSON: Are you changing anything in training camp to prevent another slow start?
COSLET: I think we came out of camp last year just a tad tired. Especially after the first game (the 36-35 loss to Tennessee in which quarterback Jeff Blake missed the last five minutes with cramps). That's not to say we won't emphasize conditioning. We'll probably emphasize it more. Our legs were maybe a little dead, a little tired. I'm not sure. Just a gut feeling. Blake is probably the most well-conditioned guy I've ever been around and when he goes down with cramps, something's not right. That gave me pause to reflect.
I'd like to come out of camp a little fresher. When you have young guys, they have to play a lot during the preseason. Guys like Takeo (Spikes) and Brian (Simmons) were playing a lot. They'll probably play a little less. Akili (Smith) has to get his snaps and the starting offensive line is going to be in there when ever he's in there. It's a balancing act. I may give a guy like (right tackle) Willie Anderson an afternoon off here and there. And you're always trying to back off the injured guys, guys coming off surgery like (defensive end) John Copeland.
HOBSON: Have you changed the structure of training camp?
COSLET: I've changed the practices a little bit. How we do the skill sessions, the walk throughs. It's the Peter Principle. You get out of it what you put into it and we're going to put a little more into it. Skills will be more uptempo, a little more realistic, more like a real game.
HOBSON: Will you wear pads in skills?
COSLET: No. We won't change much of the practice (in pads) until (after training camp.)
HOBSON: Like what?
COSLET: We won't have "all out," any more. We're not going to start with special teams. When practice starts, it's going to start with cals and everybody will be out there from the start. We'll have two special teams periods within the practice instead of just one. It's not that any more time will be spent on it, but the guys are warm and they can do it a little more up tempo speed wise.
HOBSON: After the last two seasons, do you think you still have the attention of the players?
COSLET: I'm sure there are dissenters. I'm sure there are fence sitters, waiting to see what happens. I'm sure there are a big corps of them that are supporting. Half the Rams hated (former coach Dick) Vermeil. He told me that. But he did OK with them. Half of them loved him, too. I'm not in it to win popularity contests. I think they have confidence in my coaching ability. All this goes away if we win some games early. Just like I've got confidence in their playing ability to a point and it raises if we win.
HOBSON: You've talked about how tough it's going to be coaching on the last year of a contract. Do you feel like this is your last shot to stick around the league as a head coach?
COSLET: I understand where the pressure is. I would like to be successful. I'm confident in my capabilities as a coach. I really am. I've kind of made peace with that over the years. The last two years haven't gone the way I've liked. There have been some circumstances. Look at all the stuff that's happened in the last two years.
HOBSON: With the Carl Pickens situation hanging for so long and Corey Dillon probably holding out, is this the toughest challenge of your career?
COSLET: I don't like superlatives. I don't like "ests." There's a lot of things I don't have control over. I do the best I can with a situation and then when I have a chance to change the situation, I act. That's all you can really do.
HOBSON: Where are your biggest camp competitions? I guess you have to start at kicker.
COSLET: That's going to be heated between (Doug) Pelfrey and (rookie Neil) Rackers. Playing time at backup tight end. Defensive back. How good is (rookie cornerback Mark) Roman? I don't know. (College free agent) Brian Gray looked pretty good. We'll see. Who are the backup safeties? You got me.
HOBSON: If Dillon doesn't come, running back will be the spot.
COSLET: It's wide open. We're not destitute there. But you always want your best players. We've got some capable young guys.
HOBSON: (Running backs coach) Jim Anderson says he wants one guy to emerge. He wants a bell cow instead of back-by-committee.
COSLET: I would agree with that. I did it that way in New York because I was forced to.
HOBSON: A guy who would seem to be a factor here is Nick Williams, a big Bengals' type back. A fullback who could run out of the one-back set.
COSLET: If Nick gets in shape, Nick can play. If Nick gets fat and sloppy like he was at minicamp, he can't play.
HOBSON: He weighed in the other day at 264 pounds. Where do you want him?
COSLET: In the low 60s. He can't be 280. He was 280 for a couple of days.
HOBSON: With the drafting of receivers Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans and maybe no experienced bell cow running back, do you feel pressure to spread the field with more three-receiver sets?
COSLET: Not at all because I like to do that. I did it in New York because I had the receivers. If these guys show they can carry the load, I have no problem in doing that. My offense can be converted to that easily.
HOBSON: Would you like to spread it more?
COSLET; I would like to be more of a mix. I like to do a lot of stuff because the plays are basically the same.
HOBSON: Is this group of receivers as explosive as the guys you had here in the late '80s?
COSLET: Time will tell. I mean, you're talking about pretty good players there in Eddie Brown and Tim McGee and Cris Collinsworth.
HOBSON: Were you more of a power team even with those guys?
COSLET:: Not always. We did a lot of the three wides. But we had three really good running backs. We don't know if we have one now, so I might be more inclined to do it, but we have to see. You tailor what you do to what you have, not the other way around. That's what coaching is all about. I have to see what they can do. I haven't anointed Dugans yet. I don't know what he can do. I know what Darnay (Scott) can do. I think I know what Warrick can do, but I'm not sure. I don't know what (Craig) Yeast can really do and he's no slouch. If they turn out to be better than the second tight end or better than the blocking running back, we'll do more (three-receiver) sets.
HOBSON: All these weapons have to be great for an offensive coach.
COSLET: As an offensive coach, I'm almost more excited about the defense.
HOBSON: Because of the four veteran starters you added?
COSLET: Because we've got some guys we know can play in the league to go with the guys we already had we know can play. There's nothing better for a quote, unquote offensive coach than a great defense.
HOBSON: Is this the best defense you've had since you and (defensive coordinator) Dick LeBeau took over in '97?
COSLET; By far. Oh God, yeah. Dick's had nothing to work with. He's had rookies and free agents and guys off the street. He's a hell of a football coach. I lured him off a Super Bowl team back here. You don't remember that, do you? In '96, he went to the Super Bowl (with the Steelers) and in '97 he was working for me. And I'm sticking with him. I'll stick by him forever. There's no question he's proven. The thing I always go back to is that I coached against him and that was no walk in the park. When his (zone blitz) is executed properly, it's devastating. Why do you think everyone in the league is doing it?
HOBSON: Does he have the bullets now?
COSLET: We don't have a marquee defensive lineman. We don't have Bruce Smith type, but we have a bunch of good ones. Good depth. We think Brian and Takeo can be elite linebackers and our secondary has to be better just by showing up. These are tough guys. I mean tough-minded. tough mentally. They don't come tougher than (nose tackle) Oliver Gibson. Takeo is tough mentally.
HOBSON: You'd have to put (free safety) Darryl Williams in that category, wouldn't you?
COSLET: He's going to be great. That's a huge upgrade from what we had back there. He won't stumble all over himself and miss a tackle. He may not kill anybody, but when the ball is in the air he'll intercept it. He brings experience and he'll be able to help our young guys get lined up back there.
HOBSON: The big question still has to be the cornerbacks.
COSLET: Of course. it's a passing league. You have to have them. If you don't have corners, I don't care how good you're front seven is, you're going to get toasted.
HOBSON: You seem high on your quarterback.
COSLET: I don't want to anoint him as the Second Coming just yet, but he's going to be pretty good. I've been around some quarterbacks in my day and he's got the mental capacity, he's got the real quick release. He's probably the most accurate passer we've had here since Kenny (Anderson), although he's not as accurate as Kenny. Who was? He's got the determination to make himself good. A lot of guys don't have that.
HOBSON: He's sincere about it all.
COSLET: He's a very sincere kid. When you say, "You're the guy, here it is," some guys will hide from that and shirk that responsibility. And some guys will embrace it and Akili is one of those guys. He says, "All right, give me the damn ball in the last three seconds and I'll shoot it."
HOBSON: He did against Cleveland.
COSLET: I kind of like that about him. And it's not in a cocky bad way.
HOBSON: Boomer was cocky, but he walked the line pretty good.
COSLET: Boomer was great. he wanted to win so badly, that's what made him great. He pushed everybody because he knew if he pushed everybody it would make him better. Akili will grow into that. He's not established enough right now to exude that, but he has that inside him and it will come out.
HOBSON: Akili is San Diego cool. Boomer was Long Island . . .
COSLET: I like Akili and I like getting to know him. And last year I had to jump his stuff a few times. But he responded well to it and I was just trying to help him.
HOBSON: It's surprising to hear you say his weakness is throwing the ball on the run because he is so athletic.
COSLET: He's not as good at it as he will be. but since he's been up here working out, we found that out and have been able to work on it and he'll get better.
HOBSON: Does that mean you're going to cut back on out-of-pocket stuff? And will the look of the offense change with Akili and Warrick?
COSLET: The only reason we added the (out-of-pocket passes) was to give Jeff more vision. We're not going to cut back on it. It will be part of our package. Akili does things Jeff couldn't do and Jeff did things Akili can't do. Akili's not near as adept at throwing the pure long ball, but Jeff is probably the best in the league. But he can throw a deep post better than Jeff can. He can throw a 10-yard rope on an out better than Blake. But Blake could throw the ball down the sideline.
HOBSON: So maybe more stuff over the middle this year?
COSLET: We'll see.
HOBSON: I guess no more golf now.
COSLET: Not until next February at Doral.
HOBSON: What's the last event?
COSLET: The day before camp is the head coach-offensive coordinator shootout.
HOBSON: Is Kenny (Anderson) beating up on you?
COSLET; Kenny's been killing me. I might beat him, though. I'm playing good right now. That's not a threat. That's a promise. I beat him all the time last year, but not this year. We're almost the same. The guy who makes a few putts wins.
HOBSON: When you tee off at Doral in February, I'm sure you'd like a new contract in your back pocket.
COSLET: If I do, I do. If I don't, I don't. I'll still be there. My blood pressure is 104 over 70.