BY GEOFF HOBSON
Paul Brown molded his teams to play football with the cool, brisk efficiency of a Fourth Street business. "Act like you've been there before," was one of his favorite lines for players who didn't. **Now that the Bengals are playing their second game ever at Paul Brown Stadium Friday night, coach Bruce Coslet wants his young team to act like they've been there before. Because they have. Less than a week ago against the Bears. That's when Cincinnati overcame a jittery, mistake-strewn first 10 minutes and erased a 14-0 deficit in the next 10 minutes on the way to a 24-20 victory on the stadium's opening night.
Smith missed his first three passes. The offense gained a dozen yards on their first six plays. The defense gave up a pair of 45-yard touchdown passes on their first 13 plays. Then things settled.
"We were up in the bit and we will be up in the bit," said Coslet, who played for Brown and heard the line plenty. "But you have to play with poise and not play helter skelter. You've got to execute your assignments and still play with emotion."
That's all the Bengals may have against the Lions in the final preseason game with four defensive starters doubtful with injuries, right tackle Willie Anderson sidelined with a muscle pull in his rib region, and Cincinnati hoping quarterback Akili Smith plays well enough early so he can leave after the first quarter or so.
So a diverse set of backups such as rookie free-agent linebacker Armegis Spearman, rookie draft picks Mark Roman and Robert Bean, second-year safety JoJuan Armour, as well as former first-round pick Jamain Stephens, carries the load against the Lions. But that hasn't stopped Coslet from stressing poise. He did it even before Saturday's night game was over.
"Like Bruce said at halftime, we have to figure out ways to approach the game and not get too excited and not too hyped," Anderson said. "Especially the offensive line. You can't play offensive line hyped and ready to kil someone because you need to play with controlled emotion. Akili has to play under control. The receivers. We can't play excited like a defensive end does. We can't start out like that on the road. It would have been tough on the road. You can't get down 14-0 in Jacksonville and Baltimore. The running game has to click right away."
After gaining just two yards per their 24 rushes against the Bears, the Bengals are emphasizing the running game against a Lions' defense that finished ninth in the NFL against the rush last season. And after giving up six touchdown passes ranging from 34 to 73 yards in the previous three games (73 and 34 against the Bills, 42 and 38 against the Falcons, and the pair of 45s to Chicago receiver Marcus Robinson) , they are also focusing not giving up the big play. With rookie Neil Rackers getting his first chance to take all the kickoffs in his new role, Coslet also is looking for better kick coverage. The Bears started at the average of their own 30-yard line after five Cincinnati kickoffs.
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"We're getting back to the basics," said Anderson of the offensive line's approach this week. "I think we concentrated so much on (pass) protecting Akili that we had some technique flaws. It's good we gave him time to throw, but there are going to be those games we run it 28 and 30 times with two eight (running back Corey Dillon) and we're controlling the clock."
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is concerned about the big play, but except for a blown coverage and a tricky wide receiver screen Saturday against the Bears, he says the passes have come against young players' inexperienced at playing the defense.
"You have to take care of your assignment first and then help your buddy," LeBeau said. "We tried to get them ready for that little hitch screen Chicago runs on film, but it's tough the first few times you see it. And I thought we adjusted well to it. That's the only time they hurt us on it."
All three parts of the game the Bengals are underlining Friday start with the mind game. Even tight end Tony McGee, a veteran of 103 straight NFL starts, was a little too jacked up last Saturday and didn't handle a pass in the second series he thought he should have caught.
"Everybody was excited coming into the stadium," McGee said. "On the first couple of series on offense, you want to get the job done so badly, you whiff. Once you get smacked around, or you smack someone around, that wears it off and you get into the game. One good thing is the home field gets you that hyped up before every game. That's a good positive atmosphere to play in. We've just got to be a little more mature and more meticulous as opposed to getting too excited and too giddy."
Now in Friday's first quarter, the Bengals try to act like they've been in Paul Brown Stadium before.