10-18-01, 2:30 p.m.
BY DAVE GAYLINN
It wasn't supposed to be like this for Ron Dugans. A third-round selection out of Florida State last year going from starting wide receiver to special teamer?
Bengals wide receivers coach Steve Mooshagian said of his FSU tandem, "When we drafted both (Peter) Warrick and Ron, one of the first conversations that we had was they want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. They have been living up to what they set out to do. They want to win. More than anything, they want to win."
Both of them have been trying to cure the Bengals' ails in anyway possible. Warrick has been returning punts, taking handoffs, even taking a snap under center to try to right the ship.
Dugans has been doing everything else and he'll be asked to do more with third receiver Chad Johnson out for at least six weeks with a broken collarbone.
He leads the team with 11 special teams tackles through five games and got the special teams' game ball in last week's 24-14 victory over Cleveland.
Rookie punter Nick Harris is appreciating Dugans' work. Six of Harris' 28 punts have been downed inside the opponents' 20-yard line. When returners do try to return his punts, they are limited to just 6.8 yards per return.
"Anybody would love to have a guy like that on a punt team or any special team." Harris said. "What does he have, 11 tackles in 5 games? That's a big- time pace."
Dugans is also starting to draw attention from outside the team. CBS broadcaster and former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Tasker knows what it takes. Tasker was named to seven Pro Bowls as a special teamer.
"He tackles real well which surprises
me because I wonder how many people he had to tackle while he was at Florida State." said Tasker, who worked Sunday's game.
"One key is balance. You can't get knocked off your feet. You're running hard and guys are grabbing you, holding you, trying to drag you down, but you have to stay on your feet." Tasker said, "The key to special teams is speed. Once you get knocked off your feet, the whole game is moving faster than you, including the officials, and that is not good."
Dugans said he did fill-in on special teams in the 1997 Sugar Bowl for the national championship, but he did not make any tackles.
So, when was the last time Dugans tackled someone in a game other than on an interception return?
"The last time I made a tackle besides on interceptions in college was in high school," Dugans said. "I would hit in high school, but I wouldn't really try to take anybody's head off unless they were tip-toeing through the hole or if they weren't looking. If somebody is coming at me full-speed ahead, I might have to hit them low, take their knees out or something."
Initially slated as a starting receiver opposite Warrick last season, Dugans struggled.
"Not having any veteran receivers surrounding them. Having a young quarterback," Mooshagian said. "It was as tough a situation as you could probably ask for in the NFL. He got a baptism under fire would be the way to say it."
Then, following a season which saw him catch 14 balls for 125 yards and one touchdown, Dugans watched the Bengals draft two wide receivers in the 2001 NFL draft with Johnson in the second round and seventh-round selection T.J. Houshmandzadeh, both from Oregon State.
The writing was on the wall. Rather than giving up, Dugans anted up.
"He understood our situation when we drafted Chad and Darnay (Scott) came back. He was going to be competing for a fourth spot. He understood everything, he never deviated, he never complained." Mooshagian said. "He did everything we asked him to do. He got stronger. He got faster. I asked him to lose a little bit of weight so he could move around a little better and he did that."
That kind of discipline is something that Dugans said comes from his high school. Florida A&M High School in Tallahassee, Fla. Coach Harry Jacobs' staff taught Dugans the importance of the little things that he brings with him to Cincinnati.
"Never walk into or out of the huddle. If we need this, we need that, I would do those things. I took that to the next level in college. At Florida State, they gave me the same thing in college." Dugans said, "Everything you do, do it fast be on the hop. I kind of brought it to Cincinnati. Just do everything the coach wants you to do, and do it at 110 percent. Like some guys might not do it - walking to the line or jogging to the line. I try to run to the line. What you do in practice, is what you'll do in the ball game. If I hustle, and go 110 percent everybody else is going to do the same thing."
Last season, after losing his starting receiver spot, Dugans played special teams for the last two games of the season and made two tackles. He has made at least two tackles in four of the five games this season, and has made three tackles twice.
Both of those tackles came in the first game, against Jacksonville. The following game, against Philadelphia, he faced a double press and Dugans said he was, "manhandled."
But he worked at it in the offseason.
Mooshagian said, "After he lost his starting job for one reason or another, he understood that the way to stay in the NFL is to be a good special teams player. He bought into it. He worked at it and he worked at it. We threw him in as a flyer against Jacksonville and he went in there and made two great tackles. Al (Roberts) worked with him in the offseason, he got better. He's bought into everything we've asked him to do."
Roberts, the special teams coach, said "He's big and he is strong. He has good speed. He knows how to release. He has a nose for the ball." Roberts said, "He knows where the ball is. He knows what's happening to him. What's critical about Doogie, is that he understands who is blocking and he understands where they are going and he has a wonderful reaction to it.
" He just really lets it go," Roberts said. " He has some defensive back in him. That adage of nose for the ball, he knows where the ball is going and he knows how they are blocking him, so he takes a nice shot at it that way."
"Anything to help the team." That has become Dugans' motto.
Now, he'll have more of a chance to help the team at his natural position, wide receiver. The injury to Johnson gives Dugans an opportunity for an increased role. Normally, the fourth receiver, Dugans, Danny Farmer and Houshmandzadeh are those filling Johnson's spot.
Dugans has made the most of his opportunities this season on offense. Against Cleveland, Dugans made an impressive Dwight Clark-like catch on a two-point conversion where he seemed to hang in the air endlessly to nab the pass from Jon Kitna.
"I didn't know he could hang in the air as long as he did." Mooshagian said, "He actually jumped early. He was like Michael Jordan hanging in the air. He kind of caught the ball on his way down. I think he did that to make sure he stayed in bounds."
Where does Dugans see himself on a football field.
"I guess I'm a slasher." Dugans said. "A little bit of both because when I'm called upon to make plays as a receiver I do it, whether it be crack blocking or making a key first down I guess maybe if you had asked me the first game of the season, I would have said receiver, but now, it is harder because you try to outweigh them one or the other. Both of them are important. If I don't make the play - I have teammates - and I'm going to try to force the play to my teammates. Or just be in position if my teammates force the play to me. Now I just look at it as if we're losing I'm going to try to change the ball game. Give us the momentum. I guess I'm a special teams guy and a receiver. It would be both."
Dugans doesn't draw the line there, either.
"I tell guys that I want to play both ways." Dugans said discussing his desire to play defensive back. "I want to play receiver and defense and special teams. That is highly unlikely. I want to, but it probably won't happen. I wanted LeBeau to do it one time, but I doubt it would happen. If I get hit on offense, when I go in on punt or kickoff, that's my time to go hit guys. Take out what they did to me, take it out on their guys."
For now, the Bengals are happy to have him on offense and special teams. The way it is supposed to be.