BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals quarterback Akili Smith came to work today intent on doing his part to improve practice and speed up the tempo of his huddle. Smith noticed last Sunday in Jacksonville that after he watched a replay and turned his attention back to the field, Jags quarterback Mark Brunell was already breaking the huddle.
When the day was done, Smith said the pace was better. But he wasn't satisfied. He's still looking for a little more help from his friends.
"I'll try it again tomorrow. I'll keep doing it," Smith said. "Call the play and go and after the play, everybody run back to the huddle. I know those guys have deep routes, but run back to the huddle. I know it's tiring, but it's part of the game."
Smith wasn't picking on his wide receivers, or any other position group. He just wants everyone on the offense to pick it up and try something new at 0-2. He knows since he led the Bengals to two touchdowns in his first NFL start, he has led them to just one in his other five and just 10 total points. And he wants to shake it up.
"I'm going to change today as far as the practice tempo," Smith said. "We need to speed everything up in practice a little bit more and take practice a lot more seriously than what we've been doing. Something has got to change and it's got to start in practice. We've got to practice harder."
Coach Bruce Coslet wanted to make sure that learning won't get lost in the tempo.
"To an extent, that would be good if it carried over into the game. But for learning purposes, sometimes that's not so good," Coslet said. "If that will help Akili, maybe he needs to do it. Can't hurt. Our practices have been real good. Practice is a learning situation and when you're in a classroom setting basically, you don't want to be too fast."
As one Bengal said, "They're both right. Akili's right to want to speed it up and Bruce is right to make sure on a day the game plan is installed, we learn it." . . . more.
Cincinnati may be used to 0-2 starts, since the Bengals are 2-14 in September since 1996. But Smith is fighting falling into the same-old, same-old. He was asked about why it seems his team is playing slower than their foes.
"I've been thinking about that since last game," Smith said. "We're 0-2 going into the third game. We're trying to figure it out. I know personally from an individual standpoint, I have to step it up in practice. Get a better tempo with my offense. . .Let's pick it up in practice and in a game it would be a lot easier."
BRAHAM SHELVED: The Bengals have lost center Rich Braham for the next few games as he rests the injured knee that took him out of all four preseason games. Dr. James Andrews examined Braham today in Birmingham, Ala., and trainer Paul Sparling said if Braham's knee doesn't respond to the rest he could face season-ending knee surgery.
Which means fourth-year man Brock Gutierrez gets his first NFL start against the Ravens' estimable tackle-tandem of Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams. They have helped Baltimore allow an NFL-low 2.5 yards per rush, which isn't exactly grand news for a Bengals running attack that features Corey Dillon averaging more than two yards below his career 4.6-yard per carry average. . .more
But offensive line coach Paul Alexander likes Gutierrez's toughness and brains and points to the fact that he's played in 24 games, albeit mainly on special teams. He also started every preseason game last month and played deep into the game because of Braham's injury.
"He played well in the preseason against some good players," Alexander said. "He did a good job on Ted Washington in Buffalo. A few years ago he played well at left guard against (Detroit's) Luther Ellis in the preseason. He knows what he's doing out there. We haven't paid him and trained him for four years so he can ride the bench."
Braham, who has led the offense in snaps in two of the past four seasons, had his bursa sack removed early in training camp in what was supposed to be only a cleaning out of the knee. But when Braham returned to practice late last month, the knee kept swelling up. And it apparently affected his play enough last Sunday that the club had him examined.
NO WORD ON BOOKER: The Bengals say they won't get a definitive word on the condition of defensive end Vaughn Booker until early next week. Booker, who passed out on the field late in Sunday's game, underwent a second magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI) and the results won't be known until then as doctors comb his heart and brain looking for a cause.
"It's a concern," Sparling said. "We don't want to put him back on the field until we know exactly what happened."
"That's what's scary. They don't know what it is," said defensive end Michael Bankston. "The bottom line is he has to take care of his family and his life first and go from there."
Bankston most likely takes Booker's spot in the starting lineup as the end on the tight end side, but the Bengals will continue to roll players through the four line spots. Coslet said Booker was playing the strongest game on the line when he went down. . more
Jevon Langford, who, like Bankston, can play tackle in pass-rush situations as well as end on the base defense, is active this week after not dressing in Jacksonville. The unit is coming off a solid outing, generating two sacks by nose tackle Oliver Gibson in allowing the Jaguars less than three yards per rush.
"What hurt us is we all didn't play together in the preseason because of injuries," said Bankston, who missed all the preseason games with thigh and knee injuries. "I felt rusty when I came back because I had to work on things that I usually have already worked on when the season starts. I'm still not all the way there. But I think we're starting to get more timed up as a group."
DILLON STOIC:** Dillon has 73 yards on 29 carries in the season's first two games, his lowest back-to-back total in his career in starts that he didn't leave with injury. Although clearly more subdued than earlier this season, Dillon agreed to meet the media today about the lack of success.
"Basically, we've got to execute better and that's all I'm going to get into," Dillon said. "No fingerpointing from me. As a team we've got to win and lose together and as a group we have to execute."
Asked aboout defenders penetrating into the backfield before he can make a cut, Dillon said, "Things happen. All I can control is what I do. I'm going to keep going out there and executing the play, trying hard and trying to get some yards."
Asked if he's healthy, Dillon said, "There's nothing wrong with me." When asked about offensive players pressing, Dillon said he was trying to remain patient: "I'll relax. I'm patient. I can't be accountable for everybody else. . .I'm just trying to relax, not get overexcited, be loose and go play football. Let the game come to you."
After the grilling, Dillon smiled and said, "Now I can go back to my video games."