Frerotte copes at No. 3

9-26-02, 9:45 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Gus Frerotte has been quick to remind folks that he's seen it all in his nine years as a NFL quarterback. Everything but his 143 minutes as the Bengals staring quarterback.

"I've been in all situations. I'm just not used to the way things are going right now," said Frerotte after Wednesday's practice, his first as the No. 3 quarterback.

"(Dick LeBeau) is trying to find a combination that works. He's looking for something to jell," Frerotte said. "It's amplified in the situation we're in, the place we're in, and what's gone on in the past. Look at St. Louis. They're in the same situation as us, but they've had things go well in their past. We just have to plug away to find a way."

LeBeau said he demoted Frerotte to No. 3 so could heal the throwing thumb he sprained getting sacked in the opener. Frerotte said Wednesday the thumb is swollen, "but it's not the reason things went the way they did."

The reason? Like everyone else, he starts at the quarterbacks training camp derby, which was extremely fair but also may have prevented any of the three quarterbacks for being sharp enough for the season's first month.

"That's the way I feel," Frerotte

said. "But I also feel because we did split all the time and didn't get all the snaps, there was more of an opportunity to make a switch if things did go wrong. So I was prepared for anything."

But it has to be tough to be calling a team meeting on one Monday and be the No. 3 QB the next Monday.

"Believe it or not," Frerotte said, "Guys are looking at you in this situation, too. See how you respond. Still be the leader. Still a guy to look to on the team."

Frerotte said he's working with Akili Smith and the coaches to find a solution in time for Sunday. He also knows his replacement has the same problems he did with nicked receivers and inexperienced tight ends.

"We only had four (receivers) out there today," said Frerotte of the missing Michael Westbrook and Danny Farmer. "We've got a tight end hurt (Sean Brewer). (Rookie left tackle) Levi Jones has been playing some tight end. We're just trying to find some consistency."

Which is why he thinks his first stint failed.

"Inconsistency," Frerotte said. "It's what we've talked about. If a guy is open, you might not have time. If you have time, you might have a miss-pass. We have to keep plugging away at it and find a solution."

One thing Frerotte does know. There doesn't appear to be a team meeting this week.

"I think the guys realize talking doesn't get it done," he said. "You have to do it on the field."

POSTS AND SLANTS: WR Michael Westbrook missed Wednesday's practice when he visited a doctor who confirmed a back strain and his status is to be determined. . .CB Artrell Hawkins is questionable, but thinks he'll be able to go. . .

With TE Sean Brewer (knee) out, look for Nicolas Luchey to be the second tight end in double sets with rookie Matt Schobel the lead tight end. Luchey, a fullback, would only be the lead tight end if Schobel went down. . . .Don't look for Jones to get as much action there. Dick LeBeau said Wednesday he wants Jones to focus on playing tackle. . .

Sunday's game won't be televised locally because it won't be sold out, but the Bengals are hoping they will have a figure slightly bigger than Opening Day's 53,705. The return of Akili Smith and Tampa Bay's impressive Monday night outing have apparently helped sales. . .

LeBeau has decided to stick with 13-year veteran Richmond Webb at left tackle for Sunday's game. It's an acknowledgment of the ferocious Tampa Bay defense that cancelled the Rams' Greatest Show on Turf," Monday night rather than a knock on No. 1 draft pick Levi Jones. . .

Leave it to Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp, the best quote in the NFL, to sum up Sunday's game while discussing Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon.

"I think he's one of the premier runners who is ever going to play this game," Sapp said in Wednesday's call with the Cincinnati media. "That's where our work is right there. If we can eliminate his running game and turn them into a one-dimensional team, we're going to see how much Akili Smith has learned in a week." . .

The Buccaneers have the fourth most sacks in the NFL with 10 and right end Simeon Rice has one of them. Rice had two sacks and a forced fumble against the Bengals last year in Tampa Bay's 16-13 overtime victory . . .The Bengals offensive line has allowed 11 sacks, only the expansion Texans (19) and Broncos (12) have allowed more. . .

Tampa Bay's offensive line will be re-shuffled without RT Kenyatta Walker (ankle) and LG Kerry Jenkins (leg). ROLB Derrick Brooks tweaked his hamstring running in his second interception for a touchdown in as many weeks Monday night and is questionable. . .

The odds are excellent Sunday's Paul Brown Stadium crowd will see Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon become the Bengals' all-time rusher. He needs 55 yards to pass James Brooks, a number he has exceeded in 71 percent of his games since he began playing regularly in Game Nine of his rookie season. He's sped over 55 in 52 of those 73 games. Dillon got 79 yards on 23 carries against the Bucs last year. . .

The Bengals are the only team in the NFL that has played three games and not forced a turnover. . .The Bengals four leading wide receivers (T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Peter Warrick, Run Dugans, Chad Johnson) have combined for 32 catches and 321 yards. New England wideout Troy Brown leads the NFL with 31 catches, while Buffalo wideout Peerless Price leads with 352 yards. The Bears' Marty Booker leads the NFC with 343 yards. . .

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