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Choice Opener

9-8-02, 8:30 a.m.

For openers, Bengaldom has some last-minute concerns during that one last check in the mirror before going out the door. An Opening Day Hobson's Choice sampling:

Will Bengals rely on running game on Sun. home opener vs. tough Chargers D? I think play-action passes vs secondary will be very effective to actually set up the running game. Your thought(s)? **Chuck, Severn, MD

CHUCK: You are absolutely correct, sir. With the way the Chargers use strong safety Rodney Harrison at the line of scrimmage, it's imperative the Bengals use play-action passes, as well as counters and misdirections, to free up Corey Dillon. They have to get three or four passes of 20-plus yards to ignite the running game.**

The first 6 games are the key to the entire season. 3 and 3 in the first six gives them a chance at a good season. It is funny that experts say the Bengals have an easy schedule and then say that Tennessee and Indy are going to make the playoffs!!! because those teams had a losing record. The Bengals schedule is suppose to be easy! **Ed Dayton, Ohio

ED: What makes it an easier schedule than in the past is the number of road games against teams that have struggled recently, such as Atlanta, Carolina, and Buffalo. Plus, they

play the expansion Texans on the road. They've got a legitimate shot this season for their first .500 road record since 1995.

Something about those first six games: Three of the first four games are against teams with new coaches. It's a break they catch those teams early.**

Thanks to satellite TV and the internet, I have continued to follow the Bengals faithfully since moving to Tennessee in the mid-90's. The team looks like it has the pieces in place to make a definitive improvement this year and challenge for the playoffs.

One thing that is hard to tell from the written reports about the team is whether they have crossed over as a team to having the desire to not just win games, but to dominate their opponents. Do they have that look about them? **Aaron, Memphis, Tenn.

AARON: That's what Dick LeBeau is always talking about and you never know until Opening Day. You can write and speculate all you want from Jan. 7 until Sept. 7, but you won't know until it is all on the line. They had it last year after the first two games, but lost it on the road **

First off Mr. Hobson I want to thank you for making the best team site in the NFL. I have been a Bengals fan my entire life and would be back in Ohio if I wasn't in the Air Force. I am the ultimate football fan and check out a lot of sites and none compares to the Bengals.

My question for you is about Peter Warrick. Do you think his slip in yardage per catch is due to the lack in quarterback arm strength last season or simply the position he is playing? **Jason, Trenton, N.J.

JASON: Thank you for your kind words, but we all should be thanking you for your service. You have hit on two of the major reasons. There have also been several balls thrown behind him over the middle the past two seasons, but he also hasn't been consistently catching the ball. They hope his new contact lenses help him. Another factor is that with a new offense last year, they didn't have time to craft a package or two for him (a la Hines Ward) to highlight his elusiveness. They tried to do that this past offseason.**

If they can win 4 of the 6 division games it should be a playoff season. Going just .500 on the rest of the schedule puts them at 9-7. One or two more wins would make them a lock. I see the first win coming Sunday and can't believe opening day is not sold out! **Ron, Anderson, OH

RON: Management understands they have to win games consistently and that people are not going to spend a lot of money if they aren't sure what is going to happen after 11 years of losing. The Bengals opened their two Super Bowl seasons with smaller crowds than what they will probably draw against the Chargers. In 1981, 41,177 saw them beat Seattle and in 1988, 50,404 saw them beat the Cardinals.**

Being a huge Bengals fan for quite a long time, I think this is their best chance to make some "head room" against this losing tradition. The key to success? Throw down field! Throw down field! I am not sold yet on any of the quarterbacks, but I do believe that Bratkowski needs to get a little less conservative with the offense.

I think we all believe that the running game is as solid as they come (and has the potential to get even better), but we still play like we are trying not to lose. How about stretching the field? We have GREAT receivers, but we never use them! I think we need a larger effort into passing further down field in order to see a more productive year. **Matt, Cleveland.

MATT: You're talking their language. Stretching the field are the reasons they signed Gus Frerotte and Michael Westbrook and traded up to draft tight end Matt Schobel in the third round. Bratkowski tried to stretch it last year, but young receivers in a brand new system and a quarterback in Jon Kitna not known for going deep virtually grounded things.**

As a season ticket holder and avid Bengals fan it is quite obvious that the Special Teams headed by Al Roberts display glaring weaknesses almost every week. I honestly feel that Special Teams will cost this team 2-3 games this year, a year when they have a chance at the playoffs. Why isn't Roberts held responsible for their weak efforts which occur weekly and shouldn't the result be his dismissal? There isn't a doubt in my mind that after he does finally leave, this same group of athletes will show strengths in special teams rather than their weekly glaring weaknesses. **Rick, Cincinnati.

RICK: Roberts continues to be their most bashed assistant coach and the question continues to be "Does he have the athletes he wants after they cut the roster?" With the talent they've had, some would argue they have have grossly underachieved at this spot, but LeBeau has opted to stay with a consistent scheme and kept Roberts.

You'd have to say the special teams must do it this year because it seems they cut down the roster with them in mind when they kept cornerback Bo Jennings over veterans Rodney Heath and Robert Bean.**

I was just wondering what you thought of Rudi Johnson and his situation there in Cincy. I haven't seen an article yet of whether he made the team or not. Plus, I was wondering if you thought he could be playing for a less successful team without a Pro Bowl tailback like he is playing behind there. **Curtis, Salina, KS.

No question he could be playing for someone. Here's a guy with terrific numbers everywhere he's been, but how long does he wait around here? His first true shot at being a free agent is after the 2004 season and Corey Dillon is signed through 2005.**

As a loyal fan for the past 18 years, I've noticed some trends with the Bengals. If I'd list them all it would take up most of this website.

One negative trend in particular that is really hard for a die hard fan like myself to digest is the lack of aggressiveness that the Bengals show time & time again.

I go to every game and over the past 5 years or so the lack of aggressiveness allows opponents to come into the "Jungle" and de-claw the Bengals. The Bengals seem to be worried too much about their contracts, getting hurt, or making friends with someone on the other team instead of laying it all on the line. The Bengals lack passion for the game, thus they don't get any respect. The fans notice this year after year. I'm sure I speak for other Bengals fans out there. Thank you for your time & GO BENGALS! **Monte, Jeffersonville, Ind.

MONTE: Since LeBeau has taken over, he has instilled a lot of that back in the team, although no one knows where it went in that seven-game losing streak. What they had last year and this year for the first time since the '90 playoff team is a solid group of veterans with eight, nine, 10 years experience. In the '90s under Dave Shula and Bruce Coslet, they were so young that they didn't know how to play.**

Mr. Hobson, My thoughts are on the receiving corps. I may be off base here but it is my belief that the depth chart of these receivers is way off base. First, Peter Warrick is only the 3rd or 4th best receiver on this team. He has been penciled in at one of the positions since yr 2000. Why has Bengal management been so headstrong on playing him in front of Danny F, Ron D, etc. Draft position?

It's unfair to the team and fans not to get the best players to play. I'm not saying he's terrible, I'm just concerned because he's not the player we all thought. Not fast enough. And seems to have his own agenda. I know you can't put this on but if you could drop me a line on my email I'd appreciate it.

P.S. Am I out in left field in thinking Warrick is no better than our 3rd or 4th receiver? **Deron, Coldwater, Ohio.

DERON: Surprise. I'll drop you a line now. This group has shown that it's pretty even. Remember the week that training camp started and Bratkowski said people like Houshmandzadeh, Farmer, and Dugans would push Warrick? Some think these three mid-to-late round picks are getting buried because Warrick was drafted No. 4 in the nation. That should be dispelled against the Chargers when guys are supposed to get close to an equal number of snaps.

To be fair to Warrick, he hasn't been blessed with an ideal quarterback situation and he had two different systems in his first two seasons. Plus, his contact lenses should help him.**

With all of the problems that the Bengals have had at tight end over the past couple of seasons, is there any discussion on going after a Ricky Dudley or other proven starter who has been cut this week? **Danny, Sardinia, Ohio.

DANNY: If they do anything with a veteran, it will be after Opening Day so they don't have to be on the hook for his entire year's salary, which is what the Cowboys are doing with Darnay Scott and what the Panthers might do with Rodney Heath. They seem content to stick with their two rookies in Brewer and Schobel, but they know the first half of the season they still struggle. They're gambling they will be consistent by the middle of the year.

And that's what it is. A gamble. When they drafted Schobel and passed on Ken Dilger, the message was clear. They leave themselves open for major second-guessing, but who would you cut to make room for a veteran tight end right now? Not the two rookies and the No. 3 (Brad St. Louis) is the long snapper. When they decide between one of the kickers, shouldn't that roster spot go to a cornerback? Maybe not if Brewer and Schobel get out of the gate slowly.**

What impact do you think Eric Ogbogu will have with the Bengals this year? He needed an opportunity with the JETS and never got one. I think he'll have a solid season this year. What are your thoughts? **Tommy, Rye, N.Y.

TOMMY: They really liked what they saw of him in the first week of camp before he tore his calf muscle and got shelved for the rest of the preseason. The fact they kept him around shows that and it looks like he'll be a factor backing up Vaughn Booker at left end, especially on the hot days. He's got a good motor and showed some quickness on the pass rush.**

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