By Geoff Hobson
A Conversation with Coach Bruce Coslet
On the eve of minicamp, Bengals coach Bruce Coslet sat down with Geoff Hobson of bengals.com to talk about his team.
HOBSON: YOU SAID AT THE END OF LAST SEASON YOU WANTED TO STRESS THE POSITIVE THINGS TO YOUR TEAM THIS YEAR. WHAT ARE THEY AFTER TWO TOUGH SEASONS?
COSLET: We have to deal with and accept the perception out there. But I think it's the wrong perception. The perception is, "It's the same old Bengals." But it's not in every facet. No. 1 is there's a new quarterback, a guy who could be a superstar. No. 1A is the new stadium. Then you've got the offensive line back intact for the first time in years and I think we did well in free agency (with three new defensive starters). It's not the same old Bengals. It's not. I don't know if it's going to turn out any differently. I'm not a crystal ball guy, but I don't think it will.
H: WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THESE GUYS AT THE FIRST MINICAMP MEETING?
C: I'm going to look at all the positive things. It's a fresh start with the new stadium. The angle that it's our house and we have to defend it. The practice facilities. Have you been over there lately? It's unbelievable. I couldn't believe it. When I saw it, I said, "Wow." State of the art. Some people may not like it, but the coaching staff is back intact with systems that have led the league when executed properly. We were 40 yards away from winning the league rushing title on a poor team. The defense improved 15, 16 spots against the run. Our kick returner (Pro Bowler Tremain Mack) and punt returner (Craig Yeast) were the best tandem. <>
H: WHO ARE YOUR STARTING WIDE RECEIVERS?
C: Right now, if we had to play it would be Scott and (rookie Peter) Warrick. The best players are going to play. If (Carl Pickens) played like he did last year, Warrick is better. If he played like he did two years ago, now we might go with three receivers. They'd both be starters.
H: WHERE ARE YOU GOING TO PUT WARRICK? DOESN'T HE CHANGE YOU?
C: We'll move him around. We won't move Darnay. Darnay's the (flanker), so Pete in the base offense will start learning the X position. The coaches have had fun trying to figure out where to put him. He's a guy who can catch a hitch and go 90 yards, and you've still got Darnay running to the post. There's an element of excitement to him.
H: WITH WARRICK, SCOTT, CRAIG YEAST AND RON DUGANS, IT'S AS FAST AS THIS TEAM HAS BEEN AT RECEIVER IN YEARS.
C: Ever since (Tim) McGee, Eddie (Brown) and those guys. Tim McGee is still the fastest guy I've ever clocked (in the 40-yard dash). 4.2 (seconds). Flat. It would be a hell of a relay race with these guys.
H: HOW SERIOUSLY ARE YOU CONSIDERING USING A THREE-RECEIVER SET, AND WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS?
C: We're evaluating. The biggest (con) is you lose a lead blocker and if you use solid (pass) protections, the tight end has to stay in and block. The pros are, you're probably going to get the defense in a nickel set and you could use your third-down package when it isn't third down. You can run out of it. Look at Minnesota with Robert Smith. All they do is run draws and off-tackle weak (side). It's not necessarily (easier to run the ball) against a nickel package, because if it's not third down, they play it differently. And maybe against some teams we would (go with two receivers) because we want their linebackers on the field instead of their third cornerback.
H: WITH (PRO BOWL RUNNING BACK) COREY DILLON THREATENING TO SIT OUT THE FIRST 10 GAMES, DO YOU HAVE TO CHANGE THE PLAYBOOK? DOES THAT FORCE YOU TO GO WITH ONE BACK AND THREE WIDES?
C: It won't have an impact that way. You run what you run because it's what your line does best and what your quarterback knows.
H: WITH KI-JANA CARTER HURTING, THERE'S A GOOD CHANCE YOUR TWO TOP RUNNING BACKS MIGHT NOT EVEN PLAY A SNAP THIS SEASON. DO YOU THINK DILLON WILL SIT?
C: I waver on it. In one way I look at the money on the board and I can't see him turning it down or sitting out the 10 games. He'd only make about $200,000, if that, when he'd get $6 million this year in salary and signing bonus. That doesn't make any sense to me. So logically, I expect him back.
But the other side says, "What if he sticks to his guns?" Then I've got to get the other guys ready. Two of them (Brandon Bennett and Michael Basnight) have produced whenever they've played. And look out for the new kid, (fourth-round pick Curtis) Keaton. There's Sedrick Shaw. Even without Corey and Ki-Jana, we've got four guys. We're not destitute there.
H: BUT YOU DON'T HAVE A BELL COW.
C: Take the worst case. What if both Corey and Ki-Jana are gone? Who's the next best guy? If it turns out he's a situational guy, then you bring them in and out and play them to their strengths. I did that in New York with Freeman McNeil, Johnny Hector and Brad Baxter, and we were pretty damn good. We went to the playoffs in '92. I don't know how that will come out.
H: WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN FROM AKILI THAT MAKES YOU FEEL HE'S THE GUY?
C: His only limitation is, he hasn't played. He's smart, got a great arm and he's been successful. In the same breath, he'll struggle. Peyton Manning, Tim Couch, they all struggle as they get experience. He's been here all the time (during the offseason) with Kenny (offensive coordinator Ken Anderson). You can say it and you can talk, but that's commitment.
H: YOU WENT OUT AND GOT THREE DEFENSIVE STARTERS IN FREE AGENCY. BUT YOU DIDN'T GET A CORNERBACK, AND EVEN THOUGH YOU TOOK ONE IN THE SECOND ROUND, CORNER STILL LOOKS TO BE THE WEAK LINK.
C: That's not over yet as far as getting a veteran corner. That could still be in the works. A lot depends on what happens with Corey and (right tackle) Willie Anderson. What's more important? Signing those two guys for the next six, seven, eight years? Or paying a corner who maybe plays. I think we're better off there than we were last year. (Left corner) Tom Carter is new, but he's better than we've had, and we had a lot of guys coming back who got hurt last year.
H: (RIGHT CORNER) ARTRELL HAWKINS HAS TO HAVE A BETTER YEAR.
C: I put Artrell in the same category as our linebackers in the sense that he's a third-year player. Now, our linebackers have been tremendous in Takeo and Brian (Simmons), but I expect them to be even better. Artrell is a veteran now. It's no longer wide-eyed, learning on the job. It's time to play.
H: YOU DRAFTED KICKER NEIL RACKERS IN THE SIXTH ROUND. IS IT DOUG PELFREY'S JOB TO LOSE?
C: It's everyone on the team's job to lose. We can't let the opponent start on the 40 every week. We didn't necessarily draft him as a field goal guy. He can kick it into the end zone. That was the main thing. Doug Pelfrey has had two sub-par years in a row. We all know the reasons (injured long snappers, different holders), and no one is blaming Doug. But we're trying to get better. And not just in kicking. We lost three games last year because of kicking.
H: DESCRIBE COACHING IN THE FINAL YEAR OF YOUR CONTRACT.
C: I have every expectation that it will turn out right, and I realize it's all based on winning. To stand up in front of the players and they know it's the last year of my contract, that's a difficult situaton. But I'll do the best I can with it. We're all trying very hard.