Bengaldom hopes to streak

9-30-03, 6 p.m.

Bengaldom is strangely subdued. The women and children are off the streets, the men are gathered on the common, and Takeo Spikes' Bills loom on the horizon.

A winning streak has beckoned so many times, but only five times in the last five years have the Bengals won two straight, and the populace is bracing.

And, the alarms are spreading from Washington Courthouse to Adams County to Harrison to Taylor Mill to Lincoln and Kennedy Heights as concern for Corey Dillon is reaching a presidential crisis in some pockets of Bengaldom. One if by Brandon Bennett, two if by Rudi Johnson.

But the faithful also seem to be heeding the call of the commander-in-chief. Marvin Lewis says you can be enthusiastic and optimistic as long as you remember you start from the Ground Up on Wednesday's first day of practice this week.

A sampling of Hobson's Choice in the wake of the first victory of the season:

I am concerned about Corey Dillon's long term health. Is Rudi Johnson capable of being a full time tail back in the NFL? Tom, Kettering, Oh

TOM: Johnson isn't what you're losing in Dillon, which is a perennial Pro Bowl back and a first ballot Hall-of-Famer if he ends his career like he began it. Johnson doesn't have the big-play capability that Dillon brings every play with his size and speed.

But Johnson is no hanger on as his numbers in junior college and Auburn for a year suggest. He averaged more than six yards per carry in his career at Butler County CC, and at Auburn only Bo Jackson gained more yards in season while Johnson nearly averaged five yards per carry.

We think you can win with this guy because he always seems to be driving his legs for four yards a play and keeps out of the negative plays. He's always moving the chains and they drafted him for 25-per-carry-days like this.

Quarterback Jon Kitna loves Johnson's laid-back-nothing-phases-me demeanor, although that may have hurt him with some coaches because he's had trouble getting ahead of Bennett on the depth chart.

Still, he helped win the game for them last week when he put his head down and ran the ball deep out of Bengals' territory late. And if Travis Henry doesn't play for the Bills, Johnson certainly has the edge over Joe Burns' 2.8 yards per carry. **

I'm a long time fan since about '76 and that's pretty tough considering I always have people questioning why I stick with the Bengals. I'm just not a jump ship kind of guy.

I didn't see any info about why we got rid of Takeo Spikes. Whenever I read about him on your site he was always a supporter of the team and didn't talk bad about the coaches or other players. He was definitely an asset to the defense for his experience and ability. Now it seems like every week I see something great being said about him on ESPN and he's doing it for Buffalo. What's the scoop about his departure and how do you think it will affect this weeks game? Thanks, Ron (An Air Force Bengals fan in Florida)**

RON: Thanks for your service and your kind words at the top of your e-mail. You offer the question of the week. It will have a huge impact on this game because Spikes will be so fired up and you know

each side has a book on the other.

Spikes left pretty much because he didn't want to hang around for Lewis' rebuilding project, of which quarterback Carson Palmer's development is one of the linchpins. He felt like he had wasted five years with just 19 victories and figured he didn't have too many years left.

Of course, in another galaxy far, far away, that wouldn't have mattered and the Bengals would have matched Buffalo's offer, anyway and they would have had a miserable player for six more years. But Marvin Lewis changed that way of thinking and said he wouldn't tolerate disgruntled players in realizing that, yes, chemistry does matter, and let Spikes go.

The Spikes move is a watershed moment for the organization and shows what an impact Lewis has had. Spikes is going to have a fine, profitable career in Buffalo and he will now go to a Pro Bowl. Which is great. Each side got the fresh start they wanted. **

Mr. Hobson, I love the fact that the Bengals players are celebrating a good play. That swagger and confidence, I think, are signs of an attitude, and that is what the Bengals have needed the past 13 years. The "nails in the coffin" by Justin Smith had me up and yelling in my living room on Sunday afternoon. It was fantastic. I hope to see more celebrations and more enthusiasm on the field in the very, very near future. It's nice to see the guys get excited. Thanks for the time and continued great work. Jason Cleves, OH.**

JASON: Thanks for the kind words. Lewis kind of sent some mixed signals on that Monday. He said he doesn't mind it as long as the celebrations are spontaneous, but clearly you have to think long and hard about some of those before you provide the act.

We think Lewis is an "Act-Like-You've-Been-There-Before," guy, but we also think he's thinking like you. You need some of that to play this game and he doesn't want to discourage it at this early stage. **

Geoff. Thanks for the Web Site over the year, It is hard to get much news on the Bengals hear in Australia. I was stunned when Foley and Spearman were released, especially as Foley was so sorely missed last season. I suspect that the lack of depth at linebackers has been a major reason why the Bengals have been struggling to stop the opponents rushing the ball. Also, do the Bengals have a tackling coach ? Tim, Melbourne Australia.**

TIM: They didn't have Foley and Spearman for much of last season, either, because of injuries. Both are good players against the run, but that is also the M.O. for Adrian Ross and Kevin Hardy. Depth hasn't been a problem because the only time a backup had to play for any length of time was in the opener when Brian Simmons went down for the entire second half.

One thought: One of the reasons for the early problems against the run (and they played it much better in Cleveland), probably had more to do with Simmons adjusting to the outside and Hardy to the middle, both new positions for them. **

Hey Butch! The defensive line showed itself as much improved against the Browns' suspect line. I think playing with a lead helped immensely. They need to build on their success. Another thing that showed itself, to me and my family (all die-hard Bengals' fans), is how much harder Rudi Johnson runs and finishes. Dillon is a great back past the line of scrimmage. Behind it, as the stats show, he is the worst. I feel Rudi is a more than adequate replacement for Dillon because he works to gain the tough, extra yards the Bengals need their RB to gain. Right now I feel Dillon is not integral to the team's success. In fact, he could be detrimental. What do you think? Kevin in Westwood.**

KEVIN: Absolutely respectfully disagree with you. Nobody looks good getting hit at the line. Dillon has gained at least 1,300 yards in each of the last three seasons because he DOES run hard at the line of scrimmage. If he didn't run hard here, he'd be a 950-yard back. He's had some great 0-yard runs because every team dares the Bengals quarterback to beat them and puts eight and nine men in the box on him. That makes it extremely tough on the line, and so many times he is met in the backfield. They need him more than ever with a young quarterback in the wings.

will Johnson or Bennett be the main rib this week?

Lewis sounded like Bennett is probably going to start, but look for Johnson to get the bulk of the carries. You'd think new addition Kenny Watson, a former Redskins running back signed Tuesday, is going to be inactive for the game.

Every week teams activate and deactivate players. How and what effect does that have on a player, his position with the team and his salary? Thanks, Dan.

DAN: It has no impact on salary or status as far as NFL years of experience are concerned.

**Why in the heck did Coach Lewis go ahead and cut Neil Rockers after the Special Teams coach wanted Shane? I really like Rockers and has my favorite player. There was no reason that Neil couldn't have been good with a different coach. Very Stupid. Hers some reason not to cut him: 85% GOOD ATTEMPTS SINCE NOVEMBER 2001 VS. PITTSBURGH, which when I became a Bengals Fan after them being 4-10 and coming back and winning vs. Pittsburgh with a Neil Rockers game winning FG in OT, but was unnecessary since the chewed up grass at PBS was so bad Neil's left foot slid into the ball and he missed the extra point.

That's why I liked him. He was a good kicker and made me the Bengals fan I am. After hearing that he signed a year extension to his Kicking contract with the club, and then to hear he was cut for a guy that's worse than him is outrageous. AND STUPID. I know Neil had to get arthroscopy knee surgery two weeks ago, but I think he only did that so he could perform better. I have an authentic Bengals Jersey of Neil's #5, and even a custom McFarland Sports Pick. Please let me know the reasons why #5 was cut. Thanks, Concerned Bengals Fan From Dover Delaware, Ben, Age 13.**

BEN: We don't think new special teams coach Darrin Simmons wanted to cut Rackers after working with him all preseason and training camp. Heck, he may have spent more time with Rackers this year than he had with Shane Graham last season in Carolina. It's hard to get on the move when Graham has made every kick and has done decently on kickoffs. Who knows? If Graham struggles, could Rackers be back? But Graham doesn't look like he's going anywhere soon. **

Does Peter Warwick have negative yardage in his Yards After Catch stat? Also, if you subtract all of the YAC yards from Kino's yardage total, what does his yard per pass average fall to? Paul.**

PAUL: Sure, Peter Warrick reverted to some of his old ways against Cleveland as he ran backward on some catches. But he can't be doing it as often as he was because he's sixth among AFC receivers in getting first downs with a total of 15. Kitna is averaging 7.06 yards per pass attempt. Peyton Manning is at 7.49. Are you going to dock Manning for all of Marvin Harrison's yards after catch? **

Hi Geoff, With Corey's recent injury any chance we could see that RB from UC (Jackson?) who was cut earlier this year? He seemed to have a lot of potential and seemed to run hard when ever he had a chance. Is he on the practice squad?

I know it has taken Weathersby a while to recover from the gunshot he suffered in the spring, but will he get on the field this year? I think he will make a positive contribution at some point, I just wondered when that might be. Thanks. Keep up the good work. GEOFF**

GEOFF: Thanks for the kind words at the top of your e-mail. As you saw Tuesday, they cut Jackson from the practice squad, it seems, because they didn't think him a particularly explosive or creative runner. Expect Weathersby to get on the field before the end of the season. The major reasons Terrell Roberts is in front of him now are conditioning and contributions on special teams. The coaches say Weathersby is just now getting his body settled and they're hoping he responds on teams, but he ought to get a chance some time after the Oct. 12 bye week. They like him.

WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT PUNTING. THE KICKS SEEM TO BE FLAT WITH NO HANG TIME, DEFENSE DOESNT HAVE TIME TO GET DOWN THE FIELD TO DEFEND. THE KICKOFFS ARE ALSO A PROBLEM. LINE DRIVES, CATCHING THEM FROM THE 15 OUT. I THINK THIS PART OF THE GAME NEEDS WORK, AND FAST PAT CINCINNATI.

PAT: Word is they are concerned enough to be working out people. Nick Harris' 29.5-yard net average is worst in the AFC and half a yard from being the worst in the NFL and they don't like it. But they also know they have a guy in Harris who is one of the greatest college punters of all-time and they're trying to let him work it out. But his rope gets shorter each week.

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