BY GEOFF HOBSON
Mark Duffner went full circle Tuesday when Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau did what everybody knew he would do.
LeBeau promoted Duffner from linebackers coach to LeBeau's old job of defensive coordinator. It was 23 years ago Duffner was the youngest defensive coordinator in the nation at the University of Cincinnati.
The move had been endorsed last week by outside linebacker and defensive captain Takeo Spikes and seconded Tuesday by fellow backer Adrian Ross.
"We're happy for him," Ross said. "I think it's something he wanted and he'll be getting on the rest of the defense like he gets on us."
The high-intensity Duffner admitted, "It's a big day, an important day for me. I think we've got a pretty good foundation set by Coach LeBeau and our players."
Duffner indicated he won't stray much from LeBeau's zone-blitz scheme, but LeBeau said he'll delegate much of his authority to Duffner.
"I don't think we're going to veer too far off what we've already been doing. You won't see us go into any drastically different packages," Duffner said.
Duffner said it's too early to say if he'll give up coaching the linebackers. If the Bengals hire a backers coach, Duffner could be "a walk-around coach." Or if Duffner wants to stay with the backers, the club can add another defensive coach.
"His players are the most productive area we have on the football team," said Bengals President Mike Brown of Duffner. "I think he has earned that opportunity."
Duffner, 47, a former head coach at Holy Cross and Maryland, has drawn praise for scouting and developing such players as first-rounders Spikes and Brian Simmons and free-agents Ross and Armegis Spearman.
"It's not just going to be a position for Coach Duffner," LeBeau said. "I have to be free to be involved in all of our football. I want us to be a coordinated, focused football team."
Duffner, who built one of the highest winning percentages in Division I history on defense, said he's been taking bits of LeBeau's scheme even before he came to the Bengals in 1997 after getting fired at Maryland.
"We looked at Coach's stuff when he was in Pittsburgh and tried to do some of those things," Duffner said. "Of course, we don't know the detail like we do now, but it's something I think has a good foundation because it's pressure and attacking."
LeBeau has extreme loyalty to two of the defensive coaches, line coach Tim Krumrie and secondary coach Ray Horton, his former players on the Super Bowl Bengals.
But Lebeau also stuck with defensive assistant Louie Cioffi, a Bruce Coslet hire when he joined the staff in '97 from C.W. Post after a stint under Coslet when both were with the Jets.
The status quo on defense figures to draw criticism. Since the staff has been together from 1997, the unit has twice given up the most points in franchise history (452 in 1998 and 460 in 1999) and has finished no higher than 22nd in NFL total defense the past four seasons.
This season is the best of the four, with the Bengals finishing 22nd overall, 24th against the rush and 23rd against the pass.
The 359 points allowed is the fewest the club has yielded since they gave up 319 in 1993 during Ron Lynn's last season as coordinator.
The numbers back up the belief they are decent against the run, but need desperate help on the pass rush and in the secondary. Brown said the hope is to find in free agency or the draft a pass rusher and "shut-down corner."
They finished in the top seven in allowing 3.8 yards per rush. But their 26 touchdown passes were the fourth most allowed in the NFL and their 26 sacks were the second fewest, only one ahead of Arizona.
"On defense, we're in the (NFL's) third (tier) overall," Brown said. "If we had a stronger offense, maybe we would have been a middling defense. We aren't where we want to be on defense, but we aren't at the bottom of the pack."
Defensive tackle Oliver Gibson, fresh off a new four-year extension, liked the sounds of the defensive staff coming back.
"I know how it might look to people outside," Gibson said. "But a big reason I'm happy here is because of Coach LeBeau and Coach Krumrie. There's very thin line between good and great defensive teams. The most important thing is to know what you're doing."
MORE SCOUTS?:** Brown got his annual will-you-hire-more-scouts-for-the-smallest-personnel-department-in-the-league question, and it sounded like a, "No."
"That is a red herring," Brown said. "As far as the information we have, we know as much as the other people know. Have we made some unfortunate picks? I think we have. Every team has. It wasn't because we didn't (have information)."