Calling captains

BY GEOFF HOBSON

For the first time in 43 NFL seasons, Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau had the chance to make up his team's off-season schedule.

"This was a labor of love. I like this schedule," LeBeau said. "I like this schedule because it's my schedule."

But before the Bengals know exactly what LeBeau is going to have them do on those dates, he plans to fly to Atlanta in the next couple of weeks to consult with captains Willie Anderson and Takeo Spikes.

Anderson is already lobbying players to come to Cincinnati a little earlier than usual and spend a few weeks in April working out at Paul Brown Stadium.

"It's not a democracy. The off-season program is going to be my decision," LeBeau said. "But I feel the players should have input and it's important for the coach to know what they're thinking."

LeBeau is thinking his players need a long break before training camp starts, so he has

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given them June off and has scheduled the one mandatory mini camp and four voluntary camps all in May.

Under Bruce Coslet, the Bengals usually had two camps each in May and June. Even though the players are off this June, the quarterbacks and receivers figure to stick around PBS.

"We're going to have a pretty intense off-season program," LeBeau said, "And that will give everyone a gathering period when they can catch a breath. There's a definite cutoff. We know May is the end of the offseason and July is the beginning of the season."

The club's first off-season program at the new stadium begins April 2. But
because of weather, lack of facilities, and training philosophies, most Bengals haven't worked out in Cincinnati until the mandatory and voluntary camps start in May.

That has been a criticism in the past as people try to figure out why the Bengals have started the season going 7-31 in September and October games since 1996.

But with LeBeau in charge during the team's first offseason in their new and more equipped complex, guys like Anderson hope there is more of a crowd.

"It would be nice to get settled with each other, take a look at the new offense, spend some time with the new offensive coordinator and do some things together as a team," Anderson said. "Maybe some cookouts, a charity basketball game. Get it going a little earlier."

Anderson and Spikes plan to give LeBeau a list of off-season program ideas culled from conversations with their teammates.

Anderson wants to see more of an emphasis on speed and conditioning. He thinks the team has been hurt by a lack of quickness and agility against the AFC Central's marquee teams.

"I have no problems with Kim Wood," said Anderson of the Bengals strength coach. "I just think he needs more help. Guys need to develop more speed and I know linemen, like myself, I need to work on things at my position like leg explosion."

LeBeau said he'll digest what the players say before finalizing his plan, so he didn't want to talk specifics.

"I wouldn't call it a dictatorship," LeBeau said. "But the head coach will have a program."

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