BY GEOFF HOBSON
When an NFL head coach talks about the Letters to the Editor section of his local newspaper, it's your first clue he's not coming off a victory.
Such was the case today when Bengals coach Bruce Coslet acknowledged Bob Carter's letter in today's "The Cincinnati Enquirer," and apologized for what the reader perceives as the coach's negative attitude and occasional salty language.
But Coslet agrees with his boss, Bengals President Mike Brown. The more his job status is discussed, "the less answers there are. I'll be happy to talk about Jacksonville or my team and go on from there."
Carter, of Loveland, objects to Coslet's negative attitude during news conferences and on the sidelines, as well as language he finds objectionable from a person he calls a "role model."
"I guess I've arrived," began Coslet at today's news conference. "I was vilified in the Letters to the Editor in The Enquirer." After joking that nobody read it, Coslet turned somber: "I do care," he said.
"I think his name is Mr. Carter, from Loveland, wrote in and really vilified me to the extent of my negative attitude and the role model that I am," Coslet said. "He may be right about that. This is a tough job. I try to stand up here and be a man about it and answer questions in tough situations and if it comes across as negative, I apologize for that, but I don't try to do that."
Coslet knows he needs to get bleeped now and again and he said, "That's a problem and I do certainly apologize for that. We'll try to keep the language up to par. I have kids and I know a lot of kids out there are watching this and he's right about that."
There's no question last Sunday's stunning loss has taken a toll on Coslet. Asked how his team is recovering, Coslet said, "They're probably a little more resilient than their old coach to tell you the truth."
DILLON OK, MCGEE BETTER:** Running back Corey Dillon left practice today with a sore left knee, but trainer Paul Sparling said he expects him to practice Thursday and be ready to play Sunday in Jacksonville.
"He had very mild (kneecap) bursitis and it was injected (with anti-inflammatory medication)," Sparling said. "But the swelling was very minimal."
Tight end Tony McGee expects to practice in limited form Thursday as he bids to make his 105th straight NFL start. "The sprained ankle was stopping me from pushing off, but now that's better," McGee said. His turf toe is also better.
BENGALS ADD LINEBACKER:** With the injury to middle linebacker Brian Simmons, the club got some linebacker insurance today when it signed former Patriot Marc Megna to the practice squad and released receiver/cornerback Sirr Parker. The 6-2, 245-pound Megna, released by the Patriots Aug. 27, was on New England's practice squad last season. He was the Jets' sixth-round pick in '99 out of Richmond, where he was a Division I-AA All-American. He's coming off a summer he started 10 games for Barcelona in NFL Europe.
"He plays like his hair is on fire," said Bengals linebackers coach Mark Duffner. "He's a real intense guy, a real physical guy who is an inside, middle linebacker all the way."
LEBEAU WEIGHS IN: Bengals defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is a man of few words but of many NFL seasons. In fact, 42 years as a player or coach in the NFL, which is believed to be the most of anyone in the league at the moment.
So when he chose to speak to the team immediately after the 24-7 Opening Day loss to the Browns, that turned some heads inside and outside the locker room.
"I just told them that even though the expectations are so high, they can't let one game ruin it all," LeBeau said today. "I think we've got a great bunch of guys here. They're different than what we've had before. I just thought the time was right."
LeBeau heads into the Jacksonville juggernaut (36 points on 421 yards in last week's loss in Baltimore), with a bit of stat.
The Bengals allowed Cleveland fewer yards per play than Jacksonville allowed the Browns in the Jaguars' 27-7 win two weeks ago. LeBeau didn't like giving up the last touchdown, or a 65-yard pass. But he also knows the Bengals stoned the Browns on fourth-and-two in the goal-line shadow on their first series, gave up a 35-yard pass because linebacker Brian Simmons tore knee cartilage on the previous play, and his unit held the game close most of the way.
"The thing I would liked to have seen was getting a couple of turnovers for the offense," LeBeau said. "That's what Cleveland did and that's what we have to do more of."
LeBeau, who turned 63 last Saturday, prides himself on coming out of the Paul Brown classroom tradition. So he doesn't think he's all that quiet.
"I'm a teacher," LeBeau said. "To be a teacher, you have to speak."
ROMAN WAITS, WONDERS:** Second-round pick Mark Roman, the cornerback from LSU, was inactive Sunday and probably will be again this Sunday. He could be ready to go the next week or Oct. 1 against Miami, but secondary coach Ray Horton doesn't want to to hurt him by rushing him into the lineup.
Roman is believed to be the highest draft choice in years who hasn't dressed if available, but as Horton said, "I'm not going to play him just because I picked him second. Not when I've got guys like Rodney Heath and Robert Bean who are doing well. Mark is going to be a good player, but you can't rush it."
Roman, surprised at the move, isn't sure if the time he missed from his 20-day holdout has hurt him.
"It's after the fact. You really can't say," Roman said. "Apparently I have to get better at something. I guess it's probably the speed of the game that's been holding me back because I know the playbook. I leave it to Ray Horton. He's the coach and that's his authority. He told me, 'When you're ready, I'll know and you'll know and you'll be all right.' So I'm waiting for what he says."
AKILI HYPE** Bengals quarterback Akili Smith not only doesn't believe the hype, he's not going to listen to it anymore. After Sunday's game, he visited with his folks and pretty much everyone agreed it's the worst game he ever played. Anywhere.
"It was so bad, I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay in the locker room until Saturday, until we went to Jacksonville," Smith said. "I put too much pressure on myself. I'll never do that again. I was squeezing the ball too hard. . .My mindset was I wanted to throw for 800 yards, (Corey Dillon) run for 300, (Peter Warrick) leaping and (Ron) Dugans getting his. Just a great, fantastic first game and it went totally opposite."
When Smith saw he threw for 250 yards, he said, "I felt like I threw for 60. I felt like I was 1-for-80."
That's the problem with his team, Smith thinks. It wants to win so badly, that it plays badly, and it has to relax.
"You feel the heat," Smith said. "The town has to understand these are not the real Bengals. That's not the Bengals the town needs to look forward to. We've got to show the Bengals who we are."
THIS AND THAT:** The NFL Players Association's grievance against the Bengals regarding the team's loyalty clause is slated to be heard Thursday at the club's offices. . .
Reds second baseman Pokey Reese showed up at today's practice with bullpen coach Tom Hume and announced, "I want to be a football scout." Then he watched backup running back Brandon Bennett run a play and the Carolina native yelled, "There's a South Carolina guy." Hume shook his head. "He's so excited to be down here. He's been on me for weeks. He loves Warrick." Reese, a high school quarterback, said Arizona State wanted him to play junior college ball as a wide receiver. . .
Jags RB Fred Taylor practiced in limited fashion today, but is still questionable. . .Now it looks like Bengals RB Michael Basnight's broken right wrist won't be ready until Nov. 1 at the earliest. The initial diagnosis had him possibly being back this week. . .LG Matt O'Dwyer is back from his one-game suspension for his part in last year's bar fight on Long Island. He had no comment on the fact that while he watched the game Sunday, Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis played: "Different case. I'm not him and he's not me. . ."