Bengals make change on offense

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals are looking for a new offensive coordinator after head coach Dick LeBeau emerged from a Tuesday morning meeting with nearly all of his assistant coaches intact after a second straight 4-12 season.

LeBeau's entire defensive staff returns, as does special teams coach Al Roberts.

But offensive coordinator Ken Anderson has been re-assigned to "a significant role on offense," and linebackers coach Mark Duffner has been elevated to full-time defensive coordinator.

Anderson's duties, as well as those of receivers coach Steve Mooshagian, was under discussion as LeBeau prepared for a Tuesday afternoon news conference. They apparently hinge on the new coordinator.

With new coordinators, Bengals President Mike Brown said the club will be doing things differently than what has transpired in the last three seasons in which the Bengals are 11-37.

"Different people are charged with running the offense and defense, so in my mind those are very big changes," said Brown of criticism keeping pretty much the same staff.

"Clearly we won't be doing the same things. A lot of this is not Kenny's fault," Brown said. "All this lack of success is unfairly put on his shoulders. There were a lot of things that went wrong. Our job now is to find a way to make it work. We are going to do things differently on offense."

Brown isn't discussing candidates for offensive coordinator or for a possible quarterbacks coach. But some names available are former Redskins head coach Norv Turner, Akili Smith's college coach in Oregon offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, and former Bengals and Buccaneers head coach Sam Wyche.

Offensive line coach Paul Alexander, running backs coach Jim Anderson, and tight ends coach Frank Verducci were key figures in the Bengals finishing third in the league in rushing and are apparently returning. Brown said it shouldn't be a problem luring a coordinator with those jobs already filled.

"Coordinators don't usually bring their staff," Brown said. "They usually bring themselves and work with the staff that's there. Our coaches are solid NFL coaches who have experience and that's important. We have players here who are fine players and we'll upgrade through the draft, free agency or maybe a trade. All that is in the future and a lot of this will be taken care of with the maturation of the players we already have."

LeBeau apparently felt a price had to be paid for the team's worst offensive showing in history.

In eight seasons, Anderson, the club's all-time leading passer, hasn't had much success transferring his MVP skills to franchise quarterbacks David Klingler and Smith.

Before losing his job to veteran backup Scott Mitchell after 10 starts, Smith finished as the league's lowest-rated passer with just three touchdown passes along with six interceptions in 267 attempts. The inexperienced passing game groped down field much of the season, completing just 16 passes of 20 yards or more to wide receivers.

In scoring a franchise-low 185 points, the Bengals were shut out three times, failed to score a touchdown five times, and endured 13 games in which the offense failed to score more than a touchdown.

But Brown alluded to the youth that Anderson faced. Complicating matters for the pass offense was wide receiver Darnay Scott's season-ending broken leg on Aug. 1. The presence of Scott was a major reason the Bengals felt they could release disgruntled wide receiver Carl Pickens 10 days before the injury.

The Bengals decided to go with youth at that spot in keeping three rookies and going into the season 15 NFL catches among their five wideouts.

Duffner, 47, a former head coach at Holy Cross and Maryland, has drawn praise for scouting and developing such players as first-rounders Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons and free-agents Adrian Ross and Armegis Spearman. Now the Bengals will look for a linebackers coach.

LeBeau has extreme loyalty to two of the defensive coaches, line coach Tim Krumrie and secondary coach Ray Horton, his former players on the Super Bowl Bengals.

But Lebeau also stuck with defensive assistant Louie Cioffi, a Bruce Coslet hire when he joined the staff in '97 from C.W. Post after a stint under Coslet when both were with the Jets.

The status quo on defense figures to draw criticism. Since the staff has been together from 1997, the unit has twice given up the most points in franchise history (452 in 1998 and 460 in 1999) and has finished no higher than 22nd in NFL total defense the past four seasons.

This season is the best of the four, with the Bengals finishing 22nd overall, 24th against the rush and 23rd against the pass.

The 359 points allowed is the fewest the club has yielded since they gave up 319 in 1993 during Ron Lynn's last season as coordinator.

The numbers back up the belief they are decent against the run, but need desperate help on the pass rush and in the secondary. They finished in the top seven in allowing 3.8 yards per rush. But their 26 touchdown passes were the fourth most allowed in the NFL and their 26 sacks were the second fewest, only one ahead of Arizona.

But defensive tackle Oliver Gibson, fresh off agreeing to a four-year contract extension keeping him here until the middle of the decade, was pleased to hear things were staying the same on defense.

"I know how it might look to people outside," Gibson said. "But a big reason I'm happy here is because of Coach LeBeau and Coach Krumrie. There's very thin line between good and great defensive teams. The most important thing is to know what you're doing."

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