Bengals savor no pads

8-13-01, 3:10 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ The Bengals took the pads off Sunday and guys like right tackle Willie Anderson are hoping they stay off until the team breaks training camp Thursday for a three-day weekend.

Head coach Dick LeBeau pretty much laid it on the line. If there were lack of tempo and lack of focus, it would seem to indicate the pads are going back on.

"He warned us against stumbling as far as losing our focus," Anderson said. "He didn't say it in those words, but you knew what the warning was. We've been giving him some good work. To keep a team focused and up tempo in pads in 97-degree heat is an accomplishment and he's been constantly giving us challenges. This is another one. Keep the focus without the pads."

With starters like Anderson (ankle), middle

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linebacker Brian Simmons (shoulder), outside linebacker Takeo Spikes (ankle) and contenders like quarterback Akili Smith (throwing shoulder) hurting Sunday, LeBeau said he wants his team to heal up.

Plus, it gives the Bengals time to work on "precision drills and execution," LeBeau said.

"We need the break. It's a good call," Spikes said. "I know I need it."

Sunday was the first day without pads (not counting the day before games) since camp opened July 21, which is one reason Anderson and Spikes don't think the three-day weekend is going to hurt them.

Last year, the Bengals had their regular-season bye week during the first week and head coach Bruce Coslet raised eyebrows when he gave his team what amounted to five days off.

"That was during the season and prior to that point we weren't doing as much running as we are now," Anderson said. "We had a young team. Rookie receivers and a rookie quarterback. I think this team has guys that know they have to do some things while they're home because when we get back, he'll run the mess out of us again."

Anderson says he and his teammates are in better shape than they were a year ago (they've outscored foes, 27-10, in the second half) and that this weekend comes in the middle of preseason.

"The only thing that made it bad last year was that it was the first week of the season," Anderson said. "That was terrible. I've seen coaches have a bye during the season and give them a week off and it's fine."

LeBeau gets to make another decision on a bye week when the Bengals take the Perfect Bye, which is after Game 8, the regular-season's halfway point.

"This three-day weekend is OK," Spikes said. "Guys can't go very far. Figure they leave Friday, but you got to be back Sunday. You can't go that far."

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QB CORNER:** The two Scotts (Mitchell and Covington) could be the only quarterbacks throwing Monday.

Jon Kitna had a back spasm while running end-of-practice sprints Sunday and wasn't sure he could go Monday. Trainer Paul Sparling calls Kitna "day-to-day," and says it's not a major problem. Akili Smith's exam on his bruised throwing shoulder was negative.

Mitchell said a few of the Lions approached him after leading Friday's 27-24 come-back victory and "in so many words," congratulated him for "sticking it to the fans."

"They didn't use those words, but you could tell what they were saying," Mitchell said.

As for that $800,000 perception, he doesn't think the Bengals are going to make Kitna ($4 million bonus) or Smith ($10.8 million)the starter because of money.

"I get the sense they're going to play the best guy," said Mitchell, who starts a week from Saturday against the Bills. "If it's the guy who gives us the best chance to win, I have no problems with that and I'll support him."

THIS AND THAT: Frank Murtha, the agent for AWOL tackle Mike Doughty, said Sunday night he's waiting to see if his client has spoken with LeBeau. Monday is the day the Bengals can put Doughty on Reserve/left camp and make him ineligible to play with anyone else for the rest of the year. . .

The following players missed practice Sunday: LB Armegis Spearman (ankle), MLB Brian Simmons (shoulder), WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (foot), WR Damon Griffin (hamstring), QB Akili Smith (shoulder).

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ANOTHER JOHNSON:** Here's how close the Bengals came to having their fifth Johnson to join Chad, Malcolm, Riall and Rudi in 2001. The maiden name of wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh's mother is Johnson.

But Houshmandzadeh, believed to be bidding to bec ome the first NFL player of Iranian descent, was given his father's name and he's kept it even though he knows virtually nothing about him. Except what his grandmother tells him.

The club would love Houshmandzadeh to make it, but it also wants to see more

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from him. He hasn't caught a ball from scrimmage, but special teams coach Al Roberts thought he looked good returning kicks (four for a 21 average) and punts (one for 8).

"Remember, I don't have my veterans in there yet like Ross, Foley and Neal," Roberts said of his blockers on the kick return team. "(Houshmandzadeh) had babies on the field in front of him."

Houshmandzadeh: "Every time, I was one guy away. If it had been timed right, or just get a few things going the right way, I could have scored.

"It's funny, but I remember watching games on TV and nobody paid attention to those dudes on special teams," he said.

The Bengals' special teams got noticed because they allowed an 80-yard punt for a touchdown and a 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by the ubiquitous Larry Foster.

Roberts told his crew Sunday morning it was his fault because he used young players like the rookie linebackers (sixth-rounder Riall Johnson) and free-agents Rashad Harris and Kamal Shakir for the first time on the coverage teams.

"But you have to find out about these kids," Roberts said. "I might have overcoached them and mechanicalized them to a point where they were playing in a catatonic state."

Roberts found out incumbent punter Daniel Pope has the edge. While Pope remains the better holder, Will Brice kicked "low, flat balls," in Detroit, including the 80-yarder to Foster.

"He didn't give the cover team time to get under it," Roberts said. "Combined with the new guys we had playing, we got pushed around. My fault and I told them so."

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