E-Bag for the road

11-07-01, 1:30 a.m.

Another edition of the E-Bag from the home office before the Bengals embark on a road trip in which they try to win two straight away games for the first time in six years.

QUESTION: I would like to know what is the one thing that Coach LeBeau has done to change the attitude and morale of the team. Whatever he is doing, it is working. What has he done differently from Bruce Coslet? I know this is a loaded question and has many answers, but I would like to know what has had the most influence. Ruby, Dayton, Ohio **

DEAR RUBY:** Bruce Coslet is a good man who knows as much football as anyone alive. If I needed to win a game and I could pick my offensive coordinator, I'd send Bruce up into the press box with a six-pack of Diet Coke and feel pretty good.

Some guys are made to be coordinators and some guys are made to be head coaches. And so far Dick LeBeau has flourished as a head coach because he has re-introduced confidence to once demoralized young players like Artrell Hawkins and Cory Hall. It's a much more confident team, reflected in the Detroit win in which more things went bad than good.

I think that's because the players have responded to LeBeau's don't-worry-what-the-foe-does-to-us-just-worry-about-what-we-can-do mentality.

Plus, his penchant for benching players not producing has been a departure from the more patient Coslet and has caught their attention and served to crank the intensity.

QUESTION: Can and will the Bengals dress (kicker) Jaret Holmes for Sunday's game against the Jags? Brad, Elizabethton, TN

DEAR BRAD Won't happen. The Bengals don't think Holmes' leg is in kick-off shape yet since being released by the Giants in August. They would like to ease him in for at least a week.

LeBeau raised the possibility of the Bengals making Holmes the field-goal guy and Neil Rackers' the kick-off guy, but that seems virtually impossible. That would give them four specialists with punter Nick Harris and long snapper Brad St. Louis. That's too many when you can only have 45 guys active. It looks like it's going to have to be Rackers or Holmes, but not this week. **

QUESTION:** I agree with Coach LeBeau that the Bengals are stronger now with Jon Kitna, but I also see Akili

Smith as a future starter and possibly a star. However, now he is the third-string quarterback and will not get the playing time necessary to develop (a la Kordell Stewart). Therefore, wouldn't a stint in NFL Europe be a good thing for Akili? Randall, Potomac, Maryland **

DEAR RANDALL:** I don't think there's any question it would be good for him. It would be good for him and would have been good for Scott Covington. The World kick-started the careers of the other two quarterbacks. Kitna was

the MVP of the World Bowl in 1997 for Barcelona and Mitchell led Orlando to the 1992 World Bowl while setting league records for attempts and completions.

The problem is, if the Bengals decide Smith can be Kitna's backup and let Mitchell go, they would no doubt want Smith in Cincinnati during the May camps because he would be a heartbeat away from being the starter. **

QUESTION:** Young players. Learning a new system. Chad (Johnson's) injury all accounted for. . .I've seen a disturbing trend toward a lack of trust between the QB and his receivers. Kitna hasn't been very accurate even when they're on the same page. I think this lack of trust is developing because of poor leadership.

Remember Boomer, when Pickens went down, pumping up Darnay, "Hey number one!!!" That kind of positive reinforcement is nowhere on this team. When Kitna's receiver makes the wrong read, and we get an incompletion or worse, I don't want to see him throw down his fists, hold his helmet, or otherwise express his disgust. Run over to your receiver, tell him what you were looking at, pat him on the butt, and tell him we'll get it on the next one. John, Shrewsbury, NJ **

DEAR JOHN:** I think Kitna's actions on the field have been badly misread. That is leadership and it just so happens that is Kitna's style of leadership. That was missing last year for a group of young receivers. And that's no knock on Smith, who was basically a rookie, and Mitchell, who didn't quite know what his role was through no fault of his own.

Kitna is an extremely positive guy. He makes Norman Vincent Peale look depressed. You've got to believe he's yelling encouragement and not discouragement.

I remember Boomer pointing a finger or two at Darnay, James Hundon and David Dunn in 1997 and it could be tough love in that huddle.

The only people who seem offended by Kitna's emotion are the people watching and not the wide receivers. Check Kitna's comments about the wideouts. He's always boosting them.

He says Darnay is the best all-around receiver he's been with in the league. Kitna takes the blame for costing Warrick some big days with his inaccuracy. He calls Johnson, "special," and is always praising Dugans' blocking and special teams play.

Both Kitna and the receivers think their timing will get better as the season goes along. **

QUESTION:** Please give me your thoughts on the Akili Smith pick three years ago. I feel the Bengals should have traded the pick to New Orleans for all their draft choices.

The reason is the Bengals blew this pick. Philadelphia had no interest in Smith at No. 2 and (Redskins cornerback) Champ Bailey is now an All Pro. The Bengals should have taken Bailey and the picks. This draft could have been a great one. What did they see in Smith? Brian, Simmit, N.J.

DEAR BRIAN: They saw what the Eagles saw in McNabb. A great arm hanging off a great athlete who could be a double threat.

They saw what then Browns coach Chris Palmer saw in Smith. A big, strong guy who ripped up Division I with ease. But word is Palmer got overruled by a Cleveland brass pushing Tim Couch for the No. 1 pick.

It's easy to second guess it now. Sure, I'd like to have Champ Bailey at cornerback now that I know Smith is the No. 3 quarterback.

But I would never trade a top pick to get eight guys starting with the third round. Most of those eight guys are exactly that. Guys. Some guys who aren't even in the league now. One of them ended last season starting. If you look at the eight names, there are more D'Wayne Bates than Chris Samuels.

But I do think the Eagles taught a lesson. If you want an impact quarterback fairly quickly, look at the guys who played four years in college (McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, Couch, even Shaun King in the second round) and re-examine intently the guy who started just one full season of Division I like Smith did at Oregon.

It's OK to be a one-year Division I wonder at other positions (Corey Dillon, Chad Johnson), but quarterback may be a special case.

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