BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals expanded their offensive coaching staff Thursday when they agreed to terms with John Garrett. Garrett, the recently fired Cardinals quarterbacks coach, returns to the offensive assistant role he had with the club from 1995-98.
The Bengals still seek an offensive coordinator, which will give them their most ever assistant coaches with 14. Head coach Dick LeBeau went straight to the top of the NFL passing stats Wednesday for his first interview for a coordinator when he met with Colts quarterbacks coach Bruce Arians.
Arians interviewed after the Colts granted permission for him to speak with a team seeking to upgrade the NFL's last-ranked pass offense with struggling franchise quarterback Akili Smith heading into his third season.
Arians, 48, is the only position coach Peyton Manning has known since coming into the NFL in 1998. In the past two seasons, the Colts have finished fourth and second in the league in passing during seasons Manning has thrown for more than 4,000 yards.
"I don't just like the way they get the ball down the field," LeBeau said. "I like how they put the whole thing together."
Garrett, 35, was let go along with offensive coordinator Marc Trestman after two seasons in Arizona in which the Cardinals finished 29th and 24th in NFL offense.
Garrett has always been appreciative of the time LeBeau spent with him in Cincinnati and the feeling is mutual.
Arians' eight-year NFL career has been on the upswing since arriving in Indianapolis in 1998 after serving one year as the offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama.
He likes the look of Bengals Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon because the Colts' signature is the play-action pass, the centerpiece of aggressive run action that sets up long pass plays down the field.
"The young quarterback has to play with confidence," Arians said. "You can't give him too much and you can't give him too little. You've got to give him enough to win, but you can't give him so much that he can't execute."
Arians, who has also been mentioned as a candidate in Arizona, is clearly versed in the problems of the Bengals' ability to jump start Smith.
But he also sees Dillon and receivers Peter Warrick and Darnay Scott and said, "Obviously you've got a tailback that can run the ball and the receivers bring a lot to the table, so you have to find out what players do best and do it."
Arians realizes Smith isn't the same type of player as Manning, but they also have some similarities.
"Akili's got a big-time arm and he's athletic," Arians said. "The key difference is experience. Peyton has taken every snap in every game except one and he's taken every snap in every practice. Our No. 2 (quarterback) has never taken a snap. So he's got five years of experience. It's just a matter of getting (Smith) the experience."
Not only did Colts receiver Marvin Harrison lead the NFL with 102 catches and finish one touchdown
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shy of league-leader Randy Moss with 14, but Indy also continued to heavily involve running back Edgerrin James in the passing game.
James led the NFL with 2,303 yards from scrimmage, 594 through the air. Consider the Bengals' offense scored 19 touchdowns all season and Dillon had just 158 receiving yards.
The powerful Dillon is a different kind of back compared to James and Marshall Faulk, the Colts' receiver-like back when Manning was a rooke. But Arians said he likes to give good runners a lot touches running and receiving.
Arians is well seasoned since his six-year stint at Temple as head coach ended after the 1988 season. He moved on to running backs coach in Kansas City for four years and then served as offensive coordinator at Mississippi State for three seasons. He then worked as tight ends coach in New Orleans in 1996 before going to Alabama.
LeBeau is still working on a list of candidates that could grow with a possible coaching staff change in Washington.
Garrett, a former wide receiver, had two catches for the '89 Bengals before joining Tampa Bay as a scout from 1992-94. In the following four seasons with the Bengals, he served primarily as a quality control coach on offense in charge of breaking down film and computer work.
He also worked with the wide receivers and while he clashed with Pro Bowler Carl Pickens in that role, he wasn't the only one.
"I've always had high regard for John Garrett and I talked to him today to find out what his situation is," LeBeau said.
While the job may not exactly fit Garrett's needs, he is drawn to the Bengals because club president Mike Brown gave him his first shot as a player and coach.
"I'm so glad Dick got the permanent job because he'll be good," Garrett said. "I'll never forget the time he would take with me whenever I asked a question.
"When he just come over from Pittsburgh, I asked him once to explain a zone blitz that I saw on film and he stopped what he was doing and took 15 to 20 minutes with me."
Brown has always been been impressed with Garrett's scouting abilities. Word is Garrett and Brown were two of Randy Moss' biggest fans in the 1998 draft room. He likes the way the Bengals' coaches scout hands-on.
"Teams with larger scouting staffs do it differently," Garrett said. "With the Cardinals, (the coaches) went into our big meeting room and we'd find out who we selected by reading the crawl on ESPN. You feel like a fan.
"I like the way we did it in Cincinnati," Garrett said. "You had a say who your player could be and that gives you a good start."