8-12-01, 8:55 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ The Bengals head into their bye week trying to figure out how to bottle their momentum from Friday's first pre-season win.
Because it is a "long championship season," as head coach Dick LeBeau is fond of saying, he has decided to take the foot off the pedal before playing again Aug. 25 in the Paul Brown Stadium opener against the Bills.
He has indicated to campers the club won't wear pads this week for the first time since camp started 22 days ago, and he'll give them a three-day weekend off after Thursday's workout here at Georgetown College.
"Just a chance to get the legs back," LeBeau said.
The bye week was supposed to be when the magical two clap-of-thunder events happened. A No. 1 quarterback would appear and No. 1 pick Justin Smith would sign.
Not yet, although it does appear after Friday night's two-minute drills against the Lions that Jon Kitna and Scott Mitchell are again strides in front of Akili Smith.
Here is just one man's analysis where the roster stands, keeping in mind injuries and moves at other positions dictate what happens on the cutdown to 65 players on Aug. 28 and to 53 on Sept. 2.
The number of players next to the position is how many the Bengals might keep at that spot.
The number next to the player denotes how many years in the NFL.
Locks: Jon Kitna (5), Scott Mitchell (12), Akili Smith (3); Unlock: Scott Covington (3).
First it was Kitna. Then it was Smith. Now Mitchell has his turn riding the best performance after leading the Bengals back from a 24-10 deficit with three second-half scores Friday in Pontiac.
"He executes and plays the position the way it's supposed to be played," said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel. "He's decisive."
One of the knocks on Mitchell has been arm strength, but he didn't flutter many of his 19 throws on Friday and none of the five that took the Bengals down the field for the winning touchdown.
Although Smith was harassed during much of his outing, Kitna and Mitchell appear to be ahead of him in running a game as far as calling formations and pass protections, and establishing tempo. They each overcame interceptions to produce field goals on their last drives of their respective halves.
Smith was in there for two delay-of-game penalties, he had to take a timeout at the line of scrimmage, and he fumbled twice while getting sacked.
But offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski stressed all three had mistakes getting people lined up, and Smith again got high marks for his athleticism and not fussing when LeBeau opted to keep Mitchell in the game for the fourth quarter instead of going back to Smith, which had been the pre-game plan. **
WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
Locks:Chad Johnson (R), Darnay Scott (8), Peter Warrick (2); **Virtual lock but needs to show more:T.J. Houshmandzadeh (R);Next tier:Ron Dugans (2), Danny Farmer (2), Damon Griffin (3);Flashing: Malcolm Johnson (3);Grinding:Chad Plummer (3); Craig Yeast (3);Practice squad material: Ramondo North (R).
Because Griffin can cover on special teams, he has to be put back in the mix after catching four passes for 34 yards on the last drive despite a pulled hamstring. But he's still got a long climb because they are wary of how he puts the ball on the ground, which he did on the last drive but the fumble went out-of-bounds.
Dugans had three catches, ran all the right
routes, and continues to excel on special teams. He'll be hard to cut. So will Farmer, who had a 24-yard catch. But they get a little nervous about his speed and contribution on special teams.
The 165-pound Yeast is trying to fight his way through this group of heavyweights. He ran a wrong route Friday that ended up with Mitchell throwing an interception and Houshmandzadeh got his shot at returning punts in Yeast's spot.
But Houshmandzadeh got a chance to only return one before bruising his foot. They still like his size, speed, and knowledge of the system, but they still want to see some more from him.
**RUNNING BACKS (5)
Lock:RB Corey Dillon (5);Virtual locks:FB Lorenzo Neal (9); RB Brandon Bennett (3), RB Rudi Johnson (R); RB Curtis Keaton (2);Grinding:** RB Michael Basnight (3), FB Clif Groce (5).
How about their top three backs in the preseason (Bennett, Keaton, Johnson) averaging 5.4 yards per carry in the two games and Dillon hasn't touched the ball yet?
You figure they have to make it and they have to keep one fullback. But Basnight has kept himself in the mix by big-backing his way to 65 yards on 15 carries. Neal is most likely the fullback because of all he's accomplished down through the years.
**TIGHT ENDS: (4)
Locks:Tony McGee (9), Sean Brewer (R), Brad St, Louis (2), Marco Battaglia (6);Practice squad material:** Kirk McMullen (1).
Battaglia (knee) returns Aug. 25 and none too soon, since Brewer (hamstring) is questionable. They say the roster usually decides itself and here's a case where that probably happened because of Brewer's injury. Since Brewer has yet to play in a game, they need Battaglia's experience. A reason they've run the ball well is McMullen has emerged as a competent blocker with all the snaps he's getting.
**OFFENSIVE LINE (10):
Locks:T Willie Anderson (6), T Richmond Webb (12), G Matt O'Dwyer (7), G Mike Goff (4), C Rich Braham (8), T John Jackson (14), T Jamain Stephens (6), G-C Victor Leyva (R).Virtual lock:C-G Brock Gutierrez (5);Looking good:G-T Scott Rehberg (5);Grinding:C Roger Roesler (1); T Mike Doughty (2).Injured:** T Freddie Moore (R).
There is unhappiness here. No one is about to lose their jobs, but no one is happy with the way the first unit has protected the passer, either.
Right tackle Willie Anderson didn't play because of a bad ankle and backup Jamain Stephens struggled. But Stephens also drew praise for playing hurt and Rehberg showed why he's so valuable when he relieved Stephens later in the game.
Doughty is still trying to decide if he'll re-join the team after walking out of camp last week, but that doesn't appear to be imminent.
What's the problem on the pass rush? Technically, the tackles seem to be having problems coping with the quickness of double-move stunts to the inside. But overall, Bratkowski thinks the line will get better once it becomes more familiar with the new protections and their calls.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8) Locks: T Oliver Gibson (7), T Tony Williams (5), T Tom Barndt (6), E Justin Smith (R), E Vaughn Booker (8), E John Copeland (9), E-T Bernard Whittington (8); Emerging: E Reinard Wilson; Grinding E-T Glen Steele (4), E Jevon Langford (6) T-E Kevin Henry (9), T Jeff Boyle (R).
Wilson is coming off a two-sack game in which he also forced the game's key fumble and could give the Bengals an explosive presence on the edge that no one else gives them while Smith holds out.
"With the way he's played this summer, you could make an argument he should be starting," Lippincott said. "You don't know what he'll do after Sept. 9, but what more can a guy do in training camp?"
When Smith signs, the Bengals get a two-week roster exemption. But they have to pay everybody a full salary who is on the Opening Day roster.
Wilson and everybody else is holding up against the run. In two games, the Bengals are allowing 2.9 yards per rush, and the line is supplying some push on the pass rush. Of the club's seven sacks, six belong to linemen.
"You have to be pleased with what's going on there," said defensive coordinator Mark Duffner. "The intensity and the competitiveness has been excellent."
Gibson is also coming off a two-sack game and while Barndt doesn't have many numbers the word is he's pushing the pocket and not getting knocked off the ball. Booker and Whittington continue to be solid guys who produce when the lights are on.
Locks:Steve Foley (4), Brian Simmons (4), Takeo Spikes (4), Adrian Ross (4), Armegis Spearman (2), Canute Curtis (5);Near lock but needs to show more:Riall Johnson (R);Practice squad material:** Chris Edmonds (R), Rashad Harris (R), Kamal Shakir (R).
The linebackers trying to make the team didn't help themselves on Detroit's two touchdown returns Friday night when Larry Foster went 80 yards with a punt and 101 yards with a kick return.
They are nicked at this spot. Spikes (ankle) and Foley (ribs) didn't play Friday and maybe Spearman (foot) shouldn't have. He played just four snaps and on one of them got fried by Lions receiver Johnnie Morton in one-on-one coverage for the defense's lone lapse.
All three should be back for Buffalo. Except for a personal foul, Ross played well and active as the team's leading tackler.
Locks:CB Artrell Hawkins (4), CB Rodney Heath (3), CB Tom Carter (9), CB Robert Bean (2); SS Cory Hall (3), FS Chris Carter (5), Darryl Williams (10); **Looking good:SS Tremain Mack (5), CB Mark Roman (2);Grinding: SS JoJuan Armour (3), CB Kenny Bryant (R).
Is there a spot for Armour? He gets down the field on special teams (three tackles Friday) and is very active as he tries to temper his emotional play that can get him into trouble and out of the scheme. But Mack has also shown well, flashing consistency from scrimmage for the first time in his career.Williams isn't much of a contributor on special teams, but they need his ability to run a game in the huddle.
Roman continues to hit and Bean remains around the ball, but Hawkins, Heath and Carter are holding up and forcing the Bengals to cut nine-year veteran Carlton Gray. That's a sign they will stick with nine DBs and not go to 10.
Crunch time:Neil Rackers (2);Solid:** Richie Cunningham.
Rackers got exactly what he needed Friday, a 34-yard pressure-filled field goal on the last play of the game. Cunningham has been no slouch and proves he belongs in the league. But he needed to knock out the incumbent, and with Rackers showing more length on kickoffs, it hasn't happened yet.
Incumbent edge:Daniel Pope (3);Worthy challenger:** Will Brice (3).
Brice has done nothing to lose the job, but neither has Pope. Brice still seems longer more often, but Pope is the team's best holder and his hang time is as consistent as it gets. Same thing here. Brice hasn't supplied the knock-out punch yet.