8-25-02, 7:35 a.m.
8-25-02, 10:00 a.m. Updated:
8-26-02, 10:35 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals cut their first draft choice since 1999 when they released Monday seventh-round draft pick Joey Evans, a defensive end from North Carolina.
They also cut two defensive tackles in veteran free-agent Pernell Davis and second-year man Randy Chevrier, clearing the way for long snapper Brad St. Louis to keep his job and for end Eric Ogbogu to be the eighth defensive lineman (the traditional number) despite his inability to play in the preseason with a calf injury.
Also released Monday was third-year quarterback Scott Covington, cut for the second straight year after not taking a snap in a pre-season game. Rookie free agents Justin Bland, a tackle from Missouri, and Kwazeon Leverette, a receiver from Syracuse, were also cut, as were first-year center Ray Redziniak and first-year receiver Khori Ivy.
The Bengals now have 65 players and plan to make the final 12 cuts this coming Sunday.
AKILI STAYS HOT: Offensive captain Willie Anderson wasn't pleased with some of his skill players after Saturday night's odd 552-yard night that ended in the Bengals' 31-23 loss to the Saints.
"Guys that are the playmakers, the guys that get the press and pub around here, they've got to make the plays," Anderson said.
Now the guy everyone forgot about until the last two weeks ago is the guy making the plays. Akili Smith may be running third in the quarterbacks derby, but he is No. 1 on the stat sheet and style points.
After watching Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks bob through the Bengals for 158 yards, Smith weaved through New Orleans for more than a third of the Bengals' yards in a quarter of play he brought them within two yards and five seconds of a chance at tying the game in the Paul Brown Stadium season opener.
Smith passed for 137 yards and a touchdown, and ran for 64 more to lead the Bengals in rushing and leaving his teammates shaking their heads.
"It was a show," Anderson said. "Just a show. He's playing with no fear and just doing his thing."
All indications have been that Smith's rehab from last year's severe hamstring injury has taken him out of the Opening Day mix. But his performance in three pre-season games,
which includes two touchdown passes and seven scoring drives, have guaranteed him at least a an important backup role for this season and next.
"You can see he scrambles around and makes plays," said head coach Dick LeBeau. "I thought he led several key drives there in the end."
Scrambling out of a no-huddle offense, Smith led a 62-yard drive in which he wriggled for 11 yards and capped it off with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Chad Johnson with 2:24 left in the game that cut the lead to 31-23.
Then with 1:51 left, Smith did what they said he would do when they picked him third in the 1999 NFL Draft. He veered outside for a 10-yard gain, converted a third-and-10 on a 20-yard heave to a diving Ron Dugans, and steered the Bengals 67 yards to put them on the Saints' 2 with one play left. He got flushed from the pocket and ended up volleyballing an end-zone interception, but all Smith ended up doing was just making more fans.
"It was the funnest game I've been in in a long time," said Smith, who again worked with the second team. "You get in the game and there is pressure because the coaches want to win and the fans want to win and it's great. I wasn't satisfied with my performance. There were four or five passes I should have completed."
Smith hit just 14 of 28 passes and his yard per pass mark for the preseason is hovering between four and five. But he is moving the ball. He has proof, because he could hear the Saints' coaches and players yelling at him to slow down and yelling at each other to stop him.
Smith knows the irony. Brooks is the late round pick from the same draft class who has done what Smith was supposed to do. Use his athletic gifts and rocket arm to confound defenses and take his team to the playoffs.
"I've been watching and studying Aaron Brooks for a long time," Smith said. "He's going in the right direction. They've been to the playoffs. Yeah, I think I can definitely do what he's doing. But I've been on a roller-coaster ride with the Bengals."
At the moment, he is not all the way to the top of "The Beast," but he's giving "The Beasty," a pretty good ride.
"I think if you look statistically in the NFL, you have to have a good backup and a good third quarterback," LeBeau said. "You may have to use one in a series during a game, maybe for one game, possibly for three or four games. Quarterbacks end up all playing in this league."
Smith ended up playing Saturday night when the Saints went into a prevent defense and he took all but the last two yards that they gave him. He said the last play was a "choice route," headed to the back of the end zone, but the pocket collapsed on him as he scouted the secondary. He tried to run, found nowhere to go, stood back up, and blindly shot-putted a Hail Mary as he spun around. It got picked off, but like Anderson said, it was a show.
"I don't know what happened," Smith said. "I got blitzed and I tried to run it. Then I tried to come back and throw it because I knew I couldn't take a sack in that situation."
With one preseason game left before what looks to be heading to the clipboard and the No. 3 spot, Smith isn't sure what is next.
"(Thursday) might be the last you see of Akili Smith for this season," he said. "If that's what the coaches decide, then I'll be back next year to try and win the job."
LEVI LEARNING: Bengals rookie left tackle Levi Jones said it himself: "Not too good of an outing by No. 76," after he gave up some pressures by a tag team of New Orleans defensive ends.
For instance, quarterback Gus Frerotte still managed to complete a pass for a first down even though Darren Howard blew past Jones and drilled Frerotte just as he threw it.
Jones replaced Richmond Webb during the first quarter so their first-rounder could get work with the first team to see if he's ready to be in the Opening Day lineup. Maybe not. Webb returned with the first group at the beginning of the second half in a move that Jones said was "prescripted."
Jones also got a penalty for tripping and got bull-rushed pretty good on one play.
"There were some different defensive ends. They were dancing around a lot," Jones said. "They weren't speed defensive ends by far. I was setting prepared for one thing and they did another. It wasn't stunts. It was the threat of stunts. I just have to learn and get better."
That's what head coach Dick LeBeau basically told him in the locker room after the game: "Learn from it grow and become a better player."
Right tackle Willie Anderson thought it was the kind of game a young player needed.
"Sometimes you're going to have games where the other team gets up by three touchdowns right away and you have to throw 100 passes," Anderson said. "I've lived my seven years here doing that.
"Sometimes the coaches are going to be in throwing moods and they were in a throwing mood tonight trying to decide on the quarterback," Anderson. "Those kind of days are tough on a tackle. You just have to hunker down. He gave up some pressures, but he also had some good blocks because they're a tough team. They keep rotating linemen, so you're always going against a fresh guy. I thought he held up pretty well. I was proud the way he played."
DEFENSE SHAKEN: Is it time to officially start worrying about the Bengals' No. 1 defense? Yes, for the first time since the last game of 1997, they played without both right outside linebacker Takeo Spikes (shoulder) and middle linebacker Brian Simmons (lower back). They are also without left outside linebacker, Steve Foley, but they still got drilled for two of the Saints'
first three touchdowns in decisive fashion.
The Bengals came into the game allowing 47 yards rushing per game, and Saints running back Deuce McAllister ripped off 38 on his first two carries. McAllister finished with 6.5 yards per his 13 carries, one for a touchdown and he scored another on a 16-yard screen pass.
"We know we're a better defense than that," said middle linebacker Adrian Ross. "They were getting us misaligned. They were lining up to the (strong side) and cutting us off that way. When we started just staying to the back side, we did a better job."
The Bengals' defense came in ranked No. 1 in the NFL defense and the first team didn't allow a touchdown last week against the Colts. But they did give up 17 points against the Bills and 14 points Saturday against New Orleans in the first half. Against the Saints, they did get a handle on their third-down problems, where they were successful 30 percent of the time.
Spikes doubts he'll play in Thursday's pre-season finale against the Falcons. Simmons isn't sure he'll go, but they both say they will be ready foo the Sept. 8 opener.
RB DERBY: Did Curtis Keaton get a leg up in the running back race with a 32-yard run that set up the Bengals' first touchdown? Rudi Johnson got stuffed in his bid to pass Keaton's pre-season record when he lost four yards on two carries. Veteran Brandon Bennett was his usual solid self. Seventeen of his 20 yards came on one play, and he caught four passes for 36 yards.
Bottom line? Probably no one got an edge. Keaton fumbled away a kickoff, but also ripped one off for 30 yards. Johnson had three catches for 26 yards. **
NO CONTACT:** The Bengals apparently weren't very happy that wide receiver Peter Warrick didn't wear his new contact lenses Saturday night. He wore them the first two games and had nine catches and no drops. He did have his longest catch of the season, a 28-yarder, against the Saints, but he also had two third-down drops. With the move from training camp to PBS this weekend, the contacts apparently went under his radar but he'll no doubt be reminded to wear them Thursday.
RACKERS COMES UP BIG: What was bigger news? Neil Rackers' field goals from 18 and 44 yards and his successful on-side kick? Or the fact that he gave out his first quotes of the preseason?
Rookie Travis Dorsch also stayed perfect on the preseason with a 36-yard field goal, but it appears Rackers continues to lead on him with Thursday's game possibly the decider. There is still a possibility the Bengals could keep both on the final roster, but it is slim.
The on-side kick was a work of art because Rackers made a great fake, as if he was going to crush it. Then he topped it and tight end Chris Edmonds was able to recover it at the Bengals 41 with 1:18 left in the third quarter and the Bengals trailing, 31-16.
"The reason it looks like the same kick (I always do) is because I kick it as hard as I do (usual) kicks," Rackers said. "I just pound it down hard into the ground. You just pound it down into the ground. It's something we've worked on for two years and it was just the first time we used it. I learned that from (former Bengal) Richie Cunningham, so I want to thank him for that."
Rackers attributes his fast start to slowing down.
"I'm slowing down. That's all I needed to do was slow down," Rackers said. " I'd get so excited and because I was so quick, the field became more of a factor. I think (Bengals special teams coach) Al (Roberts) got 50 percent of the team telling me to slow down. That's all it is — slow down."