Answers? You want answers?

This is like writing in a blue book in December or May at a college final exam. There are no wrong answers. There are no right answers. Heck, on half of these there are probably no answers. Just plenty of opinions. Here are one man's opinions:

If Fresno State quarterback David Carr slides in the first round, will the Bengals take him at No. 10?

After expansion Houston and Detroit get done with Carr and Oregon's Joey Harrington in the first three picks, it's a moot point. But for the sake of doing the exercise:

No.

They would hurt themselves because they would be stacking at one position while losing the chance to get a long-term starter at cornerback or left tackle. They draft a quarterback at No. 10 and they've made no progress.

Plus, Bengals President Mike Brown has been adamant he doesn't want to go the Jack Thompson-David Klingler-Akili Smith first-round quarterback route again.

Why didn't Mike Brown fire special teams coach Al Roberts and all or part of the offensive coaching staff?

First of all, the question should be, "Why didn't Bengals president Mike Brown and head coach Dick LeBeau fire," all those guys. LeBeau works hand in hand with Brown on the hirings and usually gets no resistance. Such as last season, when LeBeau pushed Brown for three extra coaches and got them.

Neither Brown nor LeBeau is the firing type. Brown because he's decent, saw how a firing shattered his father, and reveres loyalty like Daniel Snyder reveres the prime rate. LeBeau because he's also a decent guy who knows this staff pulled together in the last 13 games of 2000 to get him the head job permanently.

And neither of them apparently felt strongly enough to make a move because if one had, the other most likely would have agreed. Both guys put a premium on stability and while both have concerns about aspects of the offense and special teams, they must not have thought it was impeding the club's progress. And both believe serious strides were made over the 2000 season.

Brown has publicly stated he feels it's difficult to judge Roberts because special teams are prone to foulups in the wide-open nature of the plays.

Will Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons have long-term contracts before the start of training camp?

The Bengals will most likely try, but everything, as they say, is fluid. They certainly have more immediate things on their plate and given their salary cap crunch, it's going to be hard.

ESPN.com says they are about $10.6 million under the cap and that's not counting the things they need for the 2002 season. Which is about $3-4 million in draft picks, not to mention money to sign a veteran tight end and the bid to re-sign cornerback Artrell Hawkins, or end Reinard Wilson, or both.

Or, if the Bengals draft a cornerback and a tight end in the first two rounds, they may just go right to the Simmons and Spikes negotiations. These two guys are top priorities and the club wants both even though some agents think it is unwise to keep two high-priced linebackers.

Situation: Fluid.

Will the Bengals re-sign sack leader Reinard Wilson and Artrell Hawkins, their most experienced cornerback?

In all probability, they won't get either before free agency opens March 1 and they very may well not get either after March 1.

Hawkins appears to be the more signable of the two. But how much do they need him if they draft a cornerback at No. 10 and Kevin Kaesviharn is seen as a solid No. 2 corner because of his size and run support?

No one knows what Wilson will command on the market because his nine sacks came as a situational pass rusher. But after just giving extensions to nickel rushers Steve Foley and Adrian Ross, it's doubtful the Bengals are going to give Wilson a big number.

Why did the Bengals stick so long with kicker Neil Rackers and will they have the same patience next season?

Brown has already said Rackers should expect competition in training camp. If it comes from a veteran guy like Doug Brien, then you've got a battle royale. But if it's from a practice-squad guy like Jaret Holmes, as was the case in mid-season this year, is that really a fight?

The Bengals were reluctant to give up on Rackers during this year's struggles because they feel like he's got an awful lot of talent. How is this for a scenario? You spend a sixth-round pick on him, develop him, live through his misses, cut him, and then watch him kick for someone else the next 12 years. That happens with young kickers.

Plus, they empathize with him on the shaky condition of the Paul Brown Stadium grass in November and December.

But you also can't say, 'He didn't cost us any games this year.' Maybe not at the end of games. But his two first-half misses in Cleveland influenced an 18-0 loss.

And what of the field goals not tried?

In the 20-7 loss to the Titans, LeBeau passed up three field-goals between 47 and 49 yards in a first half the Bengals could have led, 16-10, instead of trailed, 10-7.

In the 14-10 loss to the Jags, LeBeau passed up a 49-yard try trailing 7-0, early in the second quarter. Even early in the fourth quarter of the win in Tennessee in which Rackers had three field goals, LeBeau eschewed a 47-yarder when the Bengals trailed, 21-20.

Still, the kid showed his mettle nailing two winners in the last two games.

How curious was the Bengals' play calling on the goal line?

At times it seemed like delirium overtook the coaches in the press box as they celebrated reaching the foes' 1-yard line before they called the next play. That usually involved not sending Corey Dillon up the middle and sending him or someone else to the perimeter in a play that lost ground.

But to offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's credit, he stood up for each call and gave clear reasons. They were rational decisions in taking what the defense gave him. That said, it was his first year here and he no doubt took notes on what did and didn't work.

Yes, tight end Kirk McMullen was wide open in the end zone in Tennessee before Dillon's interception.

Is Jon Kitna the Bengals quarterback of the future?

What do you define as the future? Minicamp? Yes. 2003? Wait and see. Heck, there are teams 120 minutes from the Super Bowl (Chicago, New England) who don't even know if they have a quarterback of the future.

Here's what drives them crazy about Kitna. In the six wins, he threw seven touchdown passes and four interceptions and had the two best games of his life. In the 10 losses, he had five touchdowns and 18 interceptions, which is ridiculous.

The Bengals paid for the 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions he had the year before and if he had come up with close to six more touchdown passes in the three-game stretch the Bengals lost by a combined eight points, you can touch 9-7.

You'd have to figure if Kitna offers another year like this one in '02, he's getting mail elsewhere in '03 and the quarterback is either Akili Smith or the kid they take in the draft this year.

As they say, this is another fluid situation.

What is tight end Tony McGee's future with the team?

Not clear. He's got a year left on a contract that counts nearly $2 million against the cap, he turns 31 in April, he's ended the past two seasons on injured reserve after catching just 40 balls, and they're talking about drafting a tight end on the first day for the second straight year.

But that said, McGee is a professional and he's the only tight end on the roster with more than two NFL starts. See how they draft and who they sign in free agency.

What is wide receiver Darnay Scott's future with the team?

He's got a huge cap number ($3.9 million) for a 30-year-old receiver who caught two touchdown passes last year and none in the last nine games.

But can they give up on him after his two hellacious games (265 yards on 16 catches) ended the season? Chad Johnson and Danny Farmer also made big plays late, but Scott is the only proven deep threat they have. You have to figure Scott is still a big man in the picture. **

What was colder? The Freezer Bowl or the hamstring injury to quarterback Akili Smith?**

You have to feel for the kid. After three seasons in which two have ended with an injury and one with a benching, he hasn't had all that much of a chance to show what he can do. Sure, he hasn't helped himself at times with things he has said and done.

But just once, wouldn't you like to see what a healthy Smith can do with a competent left tackle, experienced wide receivers, and an offense in which he feels comfortable?

He's got a dicey injury, but he should be able to get back where he was physically. They say he should be ready for the pre-season games, but he might not be a factor until later.

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