8-2-03, 9 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ The weekend here at Marvin Gardens couldn't have played out better for new Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
On Friday night at Georgetown College, the offense headlined the intrasquad scrimmage with three touchdown drives in 45 plays.
Then after getting drilled by Lewis in meetings, the defense went out on Saturday afternoon and carried the day in the club's first annual mock game won by the Black-clad starters, 66-17, over the White-clad reserves in a scrimmage that featured no tackling, but a liberal scoring system and a NFL officials crew headed by veteran Bernie Kukar.
"There were some guys who were in the wrong spots (Friday), the kind of stuff that is going to happen in a new defense and under Coach Lewis, that really doesn't slide," said Justin Smith, who along with fellow defensive end Duane Clemons had two sacks Saturday. "He made it understood what happened in a very stern way and we came out and corrected it today."
The first defense was particularly suffocating with a variety of looks and blitzes that frustrated Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer into an ugly 7 of 18 passing day that included an interception and four sacks while he worked with just one wide receiver with NFL experience.
But Saturday was a day primarily to showcase Lewis' organizational skills and his method he hopes turns the once soft and sloppy Bengals into a well conditioned, disciplined team as they prepare for the Aug. 10 pre-season opener on the road against the Jets.
While the club broke into two teams wearing only shoulder pads and helmets in a non-tackling game, his coaches went through game-day operations when it came to equipment and duties. While those elements got ironed out, the team reeled off 90 snaps, and the starters only committed two penalties on back-to-back delay-of-game calls with the newest quarterback at the helm, Shane Matthews.
"We've eliminated a lot of the stupid stuff we did the last couple of years," said quarterback Jon Kitna. "Hopefully we can keep that going once the season starts."
Of the 90 plays, there were only six flags with the two delays on the Black, and two holdings, an illegal motion and a defensive offsides on the White.
Lewis downplayed Saturday's events, stressing it was mainly for his coaches and, "this has nothing to do with our going out and running into each other. We don't play against each other, we play against other teams." But after the weekend, Lewis seems to have a sense of his first team.
"We have the want and the desire, now we have to go put it all together," he said. "We had some lapses with Shane getting in and out of the huddle, but it wasn't Jon and that's going to get better and we were fortunate to get it into the end zone, but we can't let it happen. . .Overall, I was pleased (with the lack of penalties)."
Smith, who led the team with seven sacks last season, is encouraged by a scheme that is stressing play in gaps to stop the run so the Bengals can get quarterbacks into third-and-long situations.
"I'm sure we'll have mistakes in the pre-season," Smith said, "but Coach Lewis wants to make sure they're cleaned up by Sept. 7."
Defensive highlights included the sacks, a circus-interception by leaping cornerback Jeff Burris, and four tackles and a pass break-up by right outside linebacker Brian Simmons.
"It's a matter of discipline," said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "The guys understood after watching that tape how they have to take care of their responsibilities. The big thing on the tape last night is that a lot of guys were all excited, they wanted to show off, and they weren't taking care of their responsibilities. Anybody who doesn't think this is going to be a process is mistaken."
Middle linebacker Kevin Hardy said Lewis didn't hesitate to pass the word after the offense pretty much had its way Friday night.
"He made some statements that guys had to step it up and guys did step it up," Hardy said. "At this point in the season, you're looking to progress every time you go out there and that's what we did today."
JUST IN TIME:** Rookie wide receiver Kelley Washington figures to report to practice Monday, which is great news for a depleted receiving corps that got blistered with 90 plays for just six guys Saturday. Coach Marvin Lewis said he thinks the club might be able to get back T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hamstring) and Adam Ziesel (shoulder) this week, but James Adkisson is going to be out a couple of more weeks with a surgically-repaired dislocated finger. Ziesel, a rookie free-agent from Missouri Western, had a leaping catch in the end zone Friday before suffering what was feared to be a separated shoulder. But he said it's only a sprain and he'll be back this week.
GLORY DAYS: Wide receiver Peter Warrick hasn't caught a pass of more than 40 yards since his first game in the NFL on a 46-yarder in the 2000 opener. But he caught a 49-yard beauty from quarterback Jon Kitna for a touchdown Saturday on the way to racking up 154 yards, two touchdowns, and six catches.
Some Bengal insiders think the slimmed-down version of Warrick is the most improved player in camp. If he feels faster at about 192 pounds (down from about 200), he sure looked it on Saturday.
"I've never said he's going to have a break-out year because in the three years I don't think he can do much more than what they've asked him to do," Kitna said. "I think it's a natural progression. He's on that path to be one of the best."
Warrick whizzed through a seam in which the closest players were rookie cornerback Maurice Tucker and strong safety Rogers Beckett on the post for a 35-yard touchdown catch from Shane Matthews. On the next series, he got behind the right side of the secondary with safety Lamont Thompson and cornerback Terrell Roberts for the 49-yard touchdown pass from Kitna.
"I've told Jon to believe in me like I believe in him and that's what happened there," Warrick said. "We all have to believe in each other. The offense has really come a long way from last camp, and we've kind of picked up where we were at the end of last season."
Warrick had one of the best offseasons on the team when they convinced him that getting lighter might allow him to do some of the things that made him the most exciting player in the country at Florida State. He punctuated the workouts by practicing in his shoes he wore the week leading up to the Seminoles' victory in the 2000 Sugar Bowl.
"Yeah, it does," said Warrick, when asked if Saturday felt like a Saturday in college. "But I'm putting it behind me and I'm just going to try and do it again."
Head coach Marvin Lewis was pleased the way Warrick and running mate Chad Johnson (six catches for 82 yards) responded to playing on a team with Ron Dugans as the only other receiver.
"I told Chad and Peter if they expected to push the ball down the field, they're going to have to jog back to the huddle and raise their level because it's important that we do that," Lewis said.
COACHING ENDORSMENT?: Officials from the Bengals and Georgetown College are supposed to sit down this week and talk about an extension of the camp contract that ends Aug. 21. Head coach Marvin Lewis may hold the key here. He said Saturday he's pleased with the facility, likes how the college always tries to do the right thing for the team, and how everything is virtually a 30-second walk away.
If Lewis likes the school, the school can't but help like Lewis. On Friday night, about 7,500 people showed for the scrimmage and about 6,500 saw Saturday's mock game. Georgetown athletic director Eric Ward said both crowds were bigger than last year's turnout for the Saturday afternoon scrimmage.
ROOKIE'S LAMENT:** After a near seamless debut Friday night (8-14, 62 yards and a touchdown and interception), rookie quarterback Carson Palmer looked like a different guy Saturday when the first defense gave him a season-full of looks and forced him into seven of 18 passing for 51 yards and four sacks as he tried to cope with a receiving corps that had Danny Farmer as its only NFL veteran.
Welcome to a NFL rookie's rollercoaster.
"Earlier in the (game) there was a lot of pressure," said middle linebacker Kevin Hardy. "We kind of scaled it back because we were giving him so many different things to look at. We were giving him almost everything we had. That's tough on a young quarterback. He did a decent job of hanging in there. It's good he's seeing those kinds of things now."
It was the kind of day where Palmer thought he had unleashed a touchdown bomb to Kwazeon Leverette, only to see cornerback Jeff Burris leap and take it away for an interception.
"A long way to go," Palmer said. "It was discouraging. But the good thing is I have two to three weeks to keep getting ready in the preseason."
Lewis said one of the quarterbacks on the other side of the field felt badly enough for Palmer that he urged the coach to put him on the Black team, fearing he would get into bad habits because of the constant rush in his face.
"He was in there with some inexperienced linemen and that can make it tough on you," said Justin Smith, who had two sacks along with fellow end Duane Clemons.
He was also working with Leverette and Chesley Borders, undrafted free agents, and the fourth-year Farmer. But Palmer made no excuses, although he noted his receivers were gassed because of a lack of depth and he thought he could have gotten away from some of the sacks, but it was hard to tell with the no-tackling rule
"Their DBs were much fresher because our receivers were going every single rep. That's football. You're going to get into games like that," Palmer said. "It's tough without pads on because of the way they sometimes call sacks. It's much better to be live. Every quarterback wants to be live."
Throw a kid with no NFL experience into a collapsing pocket against veteran cornerbacks and here's what you get. In one series, Burris jumped two short routes for near interceptions before making his pick to end the series. Also in that series, linebacker Brian Simmons nearly picked a pass intended for tight end Derek Smith,
"How many curl patterns do you think Jeff Burris has seen in his career?" Palmer asked. "He jumped one curl before the receiver got out of his break and Brian Simmons jumped inside his route. I think part of it is it's the same offense and they're starting to realize what the offensive plays are."
It's back to the tape machine for Palmer, who wants to see if his interception was a great play by Burris or a bad throw. At least he's already showing the resilient demeanor he'll need.
"It's a long road," Palmer said, "and I'm at the beginning."
Lewis granted the unnamed teammate's request and put Palmer with the Black team for the last series, when he hit one of two passes for five yards.
SCORING SPREE:** Touchdowns and field goals counted on the scoreboard Saturday, but so did a first down (one point), a pass of 20 yards or more (1), a run of 10 yards or more (1), an interception or fumble recovery (4), and holding the offense on downs or a punt (2). Quarterback Shane Matthews was a point machine for the Black with completions of 21, 26, 31, and 21 yards, not to mention a 35-yard touchdown pass to Peter Warrick. Matthews is all that he's advertised: A heady, calm 10-year vet who sliced up the youthful defense for 182 yards on 11-for-14 passing. No. 1 Jon Kitna got picked off once, but he also threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Warrick and went 12-for-16 for 139 yards.
Kitna summed up how hard it is to keep score with no tackling by asking, "How many times does Corey Dillon fall right where you first touch him?"
SCREENS AND SLANTS:** All you had to do was listen to the foot hitting the ball to know that kicker Neil Rackers is in an early-season groove with field goals of 18, 40 and 34 yards Saturday. He did barely miss a debatable 39-yarder to the right ("I don't know, I was thinking about running down and asking the official about it,") but it came off a high snap from backup long snapper Noah Happe. "I should have reacted to that, slowed down and then hit it," Rackers said. He chalks up his early crispness to the countless repetitions during the first week of camp and this past spring. . .
Long Day's Journey into night for new dad Artrell Hawkins. The Bengals cornerback.
got called home Thursday night for the birth of daughter Aria. She arrived at seven pounds, six ounces Friday and Hawkins missed the scrimmage. He stayed up virtually all night before leaving Cincinnati Saturday at 6 a.m. to drive here for the mock game. . .
Linebacker Dwyane Levels, a first-year player from Oklahoma State who spent last season on the practice squad, is making a serious run at the roster. On Saturday, he led White with six tackles, broke up two passes, and dumped quarterback Shane Matthews for a safety from his left outside spot. He fought through rookie left guard Eric Steinbach and running back Rudi Johnson, but he had help doing it because Steinbach was fighting another blitz from the other side.
The athletic, speedy Levels (6-2, 248 pounds), who made the All-NFL Europe team, knows the score.
"I'm trying to get noticed because I'm on the bubble," Levels said. "Europe helped me because they saw what I can do in a game, and it gave me game situations after being on the practice squad last year." . . .
Lewis praised the interceptions of cornerback Jeff Burris (off Carson Palmer) and free safety Lamont Thompson (off Jon Kitna) because they broke on the ball in the air. . .
Lewis said he may back off in practice this week if some of his wide receivers and defensive backs don't get healthy. Cornerback Tory James (abdomen) doesn't look like he'll be ready for the Jets. Strong safety Marquand Manuel (muscle) should be, but he didn't play Saturday. Rookie cornerback Dennis Weathersby (quad) missed the weekend, but should be ready to return. Also iced Saturday was linebacker Armegis Spearman (shoulder), but he should be ready this week. . .