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A two chin-strap day

8-19-03, 6:45 a.m.


GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ With the Bengals averaging barely three yards per rush in their first two pre-season games, Marvin Lewis attended a matinee Monday.

"Watching some tape," Lewis said.

But Lewis knows there is only one way to fix it before Saturday's game against Tennessee.

"I'll give you Marvin's quote from the end of practice," said offensive line coach Paul Alexander Monday. "He told them, 'You better bring out two chin straps tomorrow to practice in case one breaks.' That's what we have to do. Just keep working at it. Repetition."

So Lewis has revised his practice schedule to make sure there is more work for the running game. Tuesday morning's practice is probably going to be in full pads, so look out below.

"We've had third-down situations we haven't been able to make first downs and that's important and has to be fixed," Lewis said. "We have to

practice it better. We have to look at how we're doing it and make sure we're allocating the right practice time to it and doing it efficiently."

Take away running back Brandon Bennett's 21-yard run and quarterback Jon Kitna's 14-yard scramble last Saturday nigh against the Lions and the average per rush is closer to 2.5. Although Mike Goff's transition from guard to center hasn't been smooth, Lewis doesn't solely put the blame there.

"It's not one person. It's got nothing to do with one person," Lewis said. "It's a group effort. It's like sacks. They aren't the offensive line's concern as much as the entire football team. Anybody knows there 's a lot of people having a hand in it when a quarterback gets sacked."

The Bengals aren't just looking at the interior line in the running game. They want their receivers doing a better job blocking on the perimeter and down field.

SNAPS AND SCORES: Victor Leyva is having the best training camp of his three seasons. Steve Foley has lost his job. Meanwhile, head coach Marvin Lewis keeps watching, and on Monday he saw a brisk, efficient practice: "It wasn't like pulling teeth, which is a good thing."

As one long-time club observer noted Monday, "It's not the coaches who are uptight any more. It's the players." No one is sure of a job and Leyva got the message when he showed up March 24 for the conditioning program. He emerged from Saturday's victory against the Lions with a tweaked calf as well as an impressive stint with the first team at right guard in relief of Matt O'Dwyer.

"I'm in much better shape. I think that's the big

difference," said Leyva, who is down about eight pounds to 300. "I've just never felt this good. You can tell in everything that you do out there. Just breathing out there is better."

Since they took him in the fifth round in 2001, Levi Jones' old Arizona State teammate has been hampered by nagging injuries. But he was back working extensively Monday and expects to be able to go against the Titans. He's not sure he could have done in years past what he did against the Lions, which is to return to the game after getting hurt.

"When you're carrying less weight on your legs, you're going to have fewer problems," Leyva said. "That's just the way it goes. I think it's helped me there."

Leyva's big bonus is he can also play right tackle, which he'll probably get to do at some point in the last two pre-season games, although it looks like seventh-rounder Scott Kooistra is emerging as a right tackle they like.

"The big thing for me was playing with the first group," Leyva said. "I mean, it's so much faster, and quicker. You can tell right away, just by how guys line up and how they hit you. That was the best thing that came out of it. I got a chance to experience the speed of the game."

Foley is trying to get back into the speed of the game after missing the last 20 regular-season games with injuries. Ross, a seven-year versatile veteran, has responded to playing just one spot

"You have to realize how important it is once you miss a lot of time getting your footwork down, and having to get back to reading your proper keys, your drops, and reading different players and depth," Foley said. "All of those things are very important."

Foley feels the thing that really hurt him was missing a significant amount of the May and June minicamps with a groin injury. On Monday, Lewis praised Ross' ability to handle his assignments, but he didn't exactly dump Foley's $1 million salary on the waiver wire, either.

"Sometimes, when you get put back a spot, it makes you pay a little more attention to detail, and kind of brings the cream to the top," Lewis said. "Hopefully, that spurs everyone on and makes us a better football team."

Foley said Lewis hasn't spoken to him about the demotion and he didn't expect him to. But he knows they're not waiting around for anyone.

"With the high expectations and the high demand and the way it's been going, that's the way it has to be," Foley said. "You just have to catch up, get on board, and make the most of your opportunities." . . .

Lewis' first batch of cuts Monday contained no surprises, including three college free-agent rookies in Missouri Western wide receiver Adam Ziesel, Utah center Dustin McQuivey, and Clemson linebacker Rodney Thomas. Also released were first-year players Derek Smith, a tight end, and Terry Witherspoon, a fullback, as well as third-year defensive lineman Mario Monds.

Ziesel caught a touchdown in the intrasquad scrimmage and caught two balls for 18 yards in the preseason. Smith, the local favorite out of Highlands High School in Northern Kentucky and the University of Kentucky, had one catch for five yards and a first down against the Jets. The Bengals had hopes for the University of Cincinnati's Monds, a 325-pound tackle who had been with the club since the beginning of the 2001 season. His career got derailed with reconstructive knee surgery stemming from a workout for NFL Europe in 2002.

With the six cuts, the Bengals now have 73 players on the roster and need to release eight more before 4 p.m. Aug. 26.

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