Dugans' specialty takes stage

11-14-02, 8:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Ron Dugans' face has been on more walls than a dictator's portrait.

At times, Dugans, ace of the Bengals' special teams, has found himself in the end-of-game handshakes with one of his foes telling him, "We had your picture on our wall this week."

That's because they admire Dugans' work on punts and kicks, so there is a good shot the Bengals have Dugans on a big screen after viewing the tape from last Sunday's 38-27 loss to the Ravens.

"They held him pretty good," said special teams coach Al Roberts of the double-team that erased Dugans flying down the end of the line on rookie punt returner Lamont Brightful's 95-yard touchdown run.

Now the Browns come at the Bengals with Dennis Northcutt and his average of 16.8 yards per return that is second in the NFL and includes two returns for touchdowns. Throw in Andre Davis' 95-yard kick return for a TD against Houston and the Bengals are under the gun since they are 29th and 31st in the NFL, respectively, defending punts and kicks.

"He's a hard guy to stop," said Dugans, the flier on the edge. "I shouldn't let a double-team stop me. They have to triple team me. Everyone has to be in position. But like I said, I shouldn't be able to get double-teamed."

Roberts has been taking serious heat for years, but Dugans doesn't want to hear his coach take any more grilling and wonders if there are players as committed to the idea of special teams like himself, Lorenzo Neal, Brandon Bennett, Adrian Ross, Canute Curtis and some others. Dugans led the special teams in tackles last year and trails Bennett by one this year.

"He goes over the technique, he's coaching. It's up to the guys," Dugans said. ""You have to want to do it. You got some guys who have things to do on offense and some guys who have things to do on defense and, 'well, when I go on special teams I'll do it half (way).' You have to be 100 percent on special teams."

They have often said, 'If we had 11 Ron Dugans on special teams.' . . . . .On Thursday Dugans finished the sentence.

"If we had 11 Ron Dugans, we'd be putting all the punts inside the 10 on punt return," Ron Dugans said.

"You can say that about some of the guys, like Lorenzo Neal. I just have to make more than me, then."

Roberts has been a lightning rod for criticism since he arrived in 1997 and so the good things often get overlooked.

For instance, last Sunday while the Ravens broke the punt return and had a 54-yard kick return, Bennett also returned the Bengals' first kick for a touchdown in three years from 94 yards away.

And once-maligned kicker Neil Rackers has heeded Roberts' continual counsel to slow down his motion and has converted 79 percent of his field-goal tries in his last 15 games. Rackers is quietly seven of nine this year after nailing two kicks of 43 and 35 yards in Baltimore.

"It's up to the guys to cooperate, and some guys might not listen because they don't think it's important enough," Dugans said. "It's tough for (Roberts). Real tough for him. I don't think it's the coach at all."

The numbers have also been tough dating back to the year before Roberts arrived. According to the "Gospel According to Goose," the Bengals are the only NFL team that has finished 26th or lower in special teams every year since 1996.

Rick "Goose," Gosselin, the highly-regarded NFL writer from "The Dallas Morning News," has compiled league rankings since 1990 using up to 21 categories. In one of those years, 1999, Roberts had to deal with several long snappers, holders and punters in a carousel that would have ruined the best of special teams.

Last year, the Bengals finished one point out of last and Roberts has had to go patchwork a lot of times this year because of injuries at linebacker and tight end.

"We've got some young guys out there now," Ross said. "In years past we had experienced guys like Tony McGee and Marco Battaglia out there and now all the tight ends are young and with (linebackers Steve Foley and Armegis Spearman on injured reserve), you're pressed there, too."

Asked if Roberts is given enough time to work with the teams, Dugans said, "I'm not going to get into all that. In his time, he goes over coaching techniques and what we have to do each week."

The Bengals are studying Northcutt this week and they know why Brightful went all the way last week. Nick Harris boomed a nice 50-plus punt to the Ravens' 5, but it went so far right that Ross said it took most of the guys on the left side out of the way. Ross said the wing man and others have to help Dugans on contain if he's doubled, and Roberts thought some guys slowed up because they thought it was going in the end zone.

Plus, as Roberts said, "And, they did a great job blocking us."

He has high regard for Northcutt because, "he can process information. He can see the ball, the flyer and the coverage and he can create," Roberts said.

It's a nice matchup with Dugans, who has embraced his role as he battles for time in the receiver rotation, which finds him usually in the four-receiver sets.

"I play for the fans. I play for the crowd," Dugans said. "I like to help get the crowd into the game, get the crowd behind us, doing whatever you can do to help the team."

Northcutt, no doubt, can picture it.

**

SHOPPING SPREE:** Bengals ROLB Takeo Spikes, DT Tony Williams, FB Lorenzo Neal, and WR Ron Dugans each get a chance to load 10 shopping carts of food and drink Saturday at the Bigg's at 5218 Beechmont Ave., and donate it to the Drop Inn Center in downtown Cincinnati. They plan to sign autographs from 2-3 p.m. before shopping for the homeless, and then accompanying the shipment of supplies to the Drop Inn Center at 217 West 12th St. downtown.

INJURY UPDATE: In an effort to find depth in the wake of the season-ending Achilles' surgery for injured defensive tackle Oliver Gibson, the Bengals Thursday released Mario Monds and promoted Ron Smith from the practice squad to the active roster.

The Bengals had activated Monds earlier this week, but apparently felt better going with Smith because he has been practicing all year. Monds

had practiced just five days in his comeback from reconstructive knee surgery. The 6-3, 308-pound Smith opened 2002 training camp with Seattle as a free agent rookie from Lane College. He was acquired by the Bengals on waivers Aug. 27 and waived Sept. 1. Smith, who signed a two-year deal, had been on the Cincinnati practice squad since Sept. 2. Glen Steele gets the start in Gibson's spot. . .

After two days of practice, DE Vaughn Booker (knee) is questionable for Sunday. Trainer Paul Sparling said he experienced some expected post-practice soreness. . .

CB Mark Roman (knee) didn't practice Thursday and is questionable. . .RB Brandon Bennett (toe) didn't work, but is probable. . .LT Levi Jones (toe) returned to work Thursday and is probable. . .

It doesn't look like Browns DT Alvin McKinley is going to play with two screws in his broken thumb. The 6-3 McKinley has a hand in three blocked field goals this season. . .

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