Bengaldom takes it on the road

11-30-03, 2:15 a.m.

PITTSBURGH _ Bengaldom. Marvin Mania. The Chad Fad. Whatever you want to call it, it reached its 2003 peak when the Who-Dey bandwagon rolled in here Saturday evening with the biggest Bengals' crowd in recent memory at the team's long-time hotel in the Steel City, The William Penn.

One of those spotted was Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken enthusiastically greeting fellow fans while also keeping tabs on Elder High School's successful defense of its Division I state football title.

A sampling of your questions in this week's Hobson's Choice: **

All right and here we go, its playoff run time. With most people satisfied with the current results of the season Im sure Lewis isnt going to dial it down at all. I would also like to give kudos to the fans in the west who went out to support the team in san diego.. There was a mad pack of us showing awesome support for our team.

Now on to my questions.. With everyone now taking us seriously, how do u think other teams will fare? Its pretty obvious that we were overlooked as those same old bengals, this would be a good time to define our character as well as our coaching. And hats off to Brat for some awesome playcalling and mixing up of CD and RJ, I do not believe for a second that there is any team with a better running game right now.**

COAST: By other teams, we're assuming you mean the others in the AFC North. With the loss of William Green and Kevin Johnson, the Browns are going to struggle to score. We have high regard for the Ravens' defense and running back Jamal Lewis, but we find it hard to believe they're going to win the division with Anthony Wright at quarterback. The Steelers have all the elements to run the table with their offensive line now back intact, running back Jerome Bettis again the focus of their offense, and a top ten defense with a dangerous return man in Antwaan Randle El.

Still, with all that said, the Bengals look to be the most balanced team in the division in a head-to-head with co-leader Baltimore. They have the North's best quarterback, the best passing game, and a running game that can now rival Baltimore's Jamal Lewis with the tandem of Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson. The Ravens' defense has better numbers than the Bengals, but their field-goal kickers have each missed only two attempts, and the Bengals are getting more out of Peter Warrick on punt returns.

But the Ravens have the easier remaining schedule. On Sunday, they play a 49ers' team at home that hasn't won a game on the road, and play one out-of-it team on the road in Oakland and another close to it in Cleveland, while getting the Bengals at home next week and the Steelers at home the final weekend. The Bengals have to go to two division leaders in St. Louis and Baltimore.. **

Hi Geoff, It has been great watching the Bengals progress this season under Marvin Lewis. It is great to see players like Chad Johnson and Rudi giving this franchise a face and an attitude across the country. I also would like to thank the players for celebrating with the fans after touchdowns (jumping in the stands) and helping to bring the jungle back, that has been awesome.

I do have a couple questions for you. First, the offensive line has looked really good lately protecting Kitna and opening holes for Rudi and Corey.
But, how do you think they will address the line in the offseason. I think a couple guys will be free agents and, although Rich Braham is a warrior, he is getting a little older. Do you think they will draft a center to back up and learn from Braham? Will they try to re-sign the rest of the line or look to the draft or free agency?

How is Weathersby progressing? Do you think he can develop into a shut-down corner? Is he getting more practice time with Jeff Burris' injury?

Finally, I have tickets to the Cleveland game in December. I am really excited and will be making all kinds of noise in the Jungle. Do you have any suggestions for tailgating? I will be there will about 20 friends and we wanted to cook some food and hang out with the fans before the game. Any suggestions on where we can park and what time we should arrive that morning? Thanks and Who-Dey!

Brian**

BRIAN: Right guard Matt O'Dwyer, who hasn't played in about two months, looks to be headed out, but they have to make a decision on right guard Mike Goff as he heads into free agency. Braham, also a free agent, turned 33 three weeks ago and is the oldest player on the team. But he gave this team incalculable smarts and stability

when the experiment with Goff didn't work out. No doubt they have to get younger at center and they very well could do it in the draft, and maybe on the first day. If they go to free agency to get a well-priced young veteran, then they would probably draft a guard at some point. We would think they would keep Braham around one more year, unless they opted for an experienced center in free agency. Clearly, Braham and Goff have been factors in the running game revival.

It's far too early to say if Weathersby is going to be a shut-down corner. He has all the tools, as they say, and he looks to be coachable and willing. But the fact is, with Burris out, he still hasn't received a shot with free safety Mark Roman moving to the slot in nickel and free-agent rookie cornerback Terrell Roberts also getting some snaps if needed. We think they see Weathersby as a guy they are going to bring along patiently and not get his confidence blown away as they have with other rookie corners such as Artrell Hawkins who had to be rushed.

As for tailgating with friends, parking south of Third Street adjacent to the stadium is sold out with pre-paid season parking. North of Third Street ranges from $10-$20. West of Central Avenue is limited game-by-game parking. It would appear the best option is to plan on going North of Third Street three to four hours before the game and meeting at a pre-planned lot. **

Thanks Geoff for reading reviewing my questions, I'm looking forward this weeks game and the one with the 9ers, I went through the link to ticket master and came up with a best available for two in section 305 row 22, the nosebleeders if there were any, I smell sell-out and that means lots of Rudi/Corey chanting and a Who-dey shouting jungle.

What are the chances Frazier and Lewis change to a 3-4 defense in 2004? He's got a cornucopia of LBs in all shapes and sizes from converted DEs to safety sized Abdullahs. There are other hints like Justin Smith having beefed up 10-15 pounds to what would be needed in a 3-4. I read here that he likes the matchups in a 4-3, but he didn't exactly stop it from happening in Baltimore. Is it under consideration?

Is there a fund we can donate to for dancing lesson for our talented rookie WR Kelley Washington? Perhaps on his website? What a game for him, and congrats to Walter's for his first NFL catch.

In a league wide scale from one to ten, how complex is Bratkowski's offense? There was a lot going on with fake reverses and blocking receivers, Warrick had almost no receiver yards, but had a busy day regardless of his rushing. Even when your not the goto guy there is stuff to do. We ran sets with a lot of receivers, but everyone seems to get it. Is it the players, and/or is Bratkowski's O not as hard to learn as the 3 years Kitna and others have taken would suggest?

I know Burris needs clearance to play, but is there at least a timeline of when he might get that?

As we enter the college Bowl season, does the locker room have a common favorite team? I'm guessing LSU. Taylor from Fairfield**

TAYLOR: The heavens are glad to have you.

We just don't see the Bengals going to a 3-4 next season after what Lewis said before playing the Texans' 3-4 on Nov. 9: "I like the 4-3. At the end of the game, you've got a bigger guy rushing over there against an offensive tackle. I like that match up. You like having the flexibility of linebackers (in a 3-4) because you can be more creative on third down. But I do like having a (defensive end) Michael McCrary rusher, Duane Clemons, Justin Smith. I like those guys rushing. It's fun. What we're doing with a 4-3 is we're going to have one outside linebacker that's a rush type guy and that will be his niche."

Justin Smith hasn't bulked up that much, if at all. He's still playing at about 270 pounds, and he seems to fluctuate between about 267-273, as he has for his previous two seasons. If anything, he was thinking about being lighter (262-263) in the offseason. He's just not built for the 3-4, unless they move him to linebacker and that just doesn't seem to be in the offing.

Bratkowski's offense is no different than any other in the league when it comes to learning. It seems to be a bit easier than the West Coast because Brat uses a number tree for pass routes that many offenses use.

But you have to take them at their word when Brat and Kitna write off the offensive success to young receivers like Chad Johnson and Peter Warrick simply becoming young veterans by virtue of time, and Kitna having the luxury of being with the same people for three years.

That's the one common denominator of the league's top five offenses in Minnesota, Indy, the Chiefs, Green Bay, and the Giants. They all have quarterbacks who have been there at least three years, like Kitna, and are throwing to relatively to the same backs and wideouts.

Burris (concussion) has been talking about returning against the Ravens next week.

With Willie Anderson and Rudi Johnson, Auburn is popular in the locker room nowadays, but LSU's Tory James and Mark Roman have had some spirited debates with Rudi. But when the team charter landed in Pittsburgh Saturday, the only score that was requested was Florida State (Peter Warrick)-Florida (Marquand Manuel, Shane Matthews). **

Three months removed from the Lamont Thompson debacle, how do Marvin Lewis and the organization feel about the current safeties? Beckett will be a free agent, I believe, at the end of the year, and Roman seemed to have a bad first half in the Chargers game (missed a tackle leading to a big Tomlinson gain, let Boston go free on a touchdown pass), although Roman seems to have a great deal of potential.

Apparently, Manuel is thought of as a reserve/special teams player, and Kaesviharn is also a special teams guy who is valuable due to his versatility. Will this position be targeted in free agency or the draft, or both, or will the team look to keep what we already have?**

TARGETED: They are encouraged and impressed by what the four safeties have done by committee this season. No doubt they will do what they are going to do at every spot and continue to look for a young big-play guy who can do everything, like say an Ed Reed, in the draft or free agency. Yet Roman, Beckett, Kaesviharn, and Manuel have not only stepped up from scrimmage, but also on special teams.

Roman's play last week is the exception rather than the rule this season. He has usually been a sure tackler, and cornerback Tory James took the blame for Boston's first touchdown pass. They think Roman has been very good with four pass breakups, one interception, and half a sack, and has been extremely valuable as the slot corner in Burris' absence.

**I was wondering if anyone noticed that when Kelly Washington broke into his absurd ritual after his TD, some offensive lineman came to celebrate with him. He never even noticed,so entranced with his ability to do what he gets payed a silly amount of money to do!! He was so into himself that Rich Braham took one look and turned toward the bench.

Now much of what I know about football is from playing Madden, but im pretty sure he cant score unless 10 other guys do what they are supposed to do. They deserve to celebrate the TD as well as the receiver. Anyway it seems to be self appreciation and has not much to do with team. There is no "I" in team, but for Kelly there is an "ME".**

ME: Actually, Washington says the offensive line likes the dance and keeps everybody away from him so he can do it undisturbed. And, he says guys like Braham and some of the other linemen joke with him about it, and he says he always makes sure to thank the line after he scores. Marvin Lewis hasn't dropped the shovel on him yet, so he must think it's harmless. **

I have been following NFL from hear in Australia since 1981, yes the year the Bengals lost to the 49er's. It was the first year it was shown on T.V. here and have been following the Bengals since then.

Yes with some of the years since then I has been hard to seeing the results, but you are one team I have always followed, though I have not followed the stats to much.

But I have one thing has been on my mind since that 81 SuperBowl, one of the Bengals linemen badly broke his leg in the game, what happened to him, and was he ever able to play again? As I still remember the sight of it happening, and of course they had to show it in slow motion over and over again. Thats all for now, good luck for the rest of the season, lets get into the play-offs. Thanks, Danny**

DANNY: We think you mean nose tackle Tim Krumrie, but he broke his leg so spectacularly in Super Bowl XXIII, after the 1988 season. it was deemed a career-threatening injury, but he had a rod inserted in his leg and defied everyone by being in the starting lineup for the 1989 regular-season opener nine month later, and finishing third on the team in tackles. Krumrie never went back to the Pro Bowl after the injury, but he played five more seasons after the injury before becoming a Bengals' assistant coach in 1995. He stayed in Cincinnati until becoming the Bills' defensive line coach this season.

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