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LeBeau backed amid emotion

10-14-02 Coach Dick LeBeau new conference

10-15-02, 8 a.m.


The Bengals' winless season is hurting them in so many places, it's hard to begin. But the biggest damage is in their own locker room, where veterans and newcomers alike dread their future here if it stays like this.

Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon, the rock of the franchise, is making noises about "options," that don't include playing out the last three years of his deal.

Wide receiver Michael Westbrook, this year's most high-profile free agent, was inactive even though healthy Sunday and is unhappy. Even though the Bengals don't have a set policy about inactive players sticking around to watch home games, Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau said it's assumed they do. But Westbrook, seen leaving the stadium about 90 minutes before the game, wouldn't say if he came back to watch.

Defensive captain Takeo Spikes, a free-agent at the end of the season, sounded as if he could no longer bear the strain of 17-53.

"It's hard. I want to compete. I want to compete," Spikes said.

Asked if he can compete here, Spikes said, "I want to compete. Right now, we're not competing."

Spikes, who along with Dillon is the most outwardly passionate player on a reserved team, had an emotional Sunday and Monday. On Sunday, his half-time harangue to the defense forced LeBeau to step in to make sure he didn't say too much. And on Monday, he spent a soul-searching, eloquent 15 minutes with the club's beat writers in putting the blame on everyone from Bengals President Mike Brown all the way down to the bottom rung of the organization.

"It's worse than it's ever been," Spikes said, and when asked if players had thrown in the towel, he said, "We're 0-6. You can say whatever you want."

In pointing out the Bengals' lack of identity and tradition compared to franchises like the Steelers and Dolphins, he said, "It's bigger than," LeBeau.

In his emotional defense of LeBeau, Spikes said several times, "It begins at the top," but he also said he didn't want to pick out Brown.

"It's not one thing, one person," Spikes said. "It's little things. . .You put them in a paint bucket and paint a picture that would be the big picture and that's our problem. All them little things."

The bye week offers little solace from what is no question the worst

start in team history, but maybe the worst in NFL history.

"Thank God it's a bye week," Spikes said. "You start to feel like you're a piece of meat in the ocean and a shark is just taking his turns pulling you apart. Now the bleeding is stopped at least for a week. Now it gives us a chance to heal up all the wounds. We need to figure out a new attack. We need to do something."

Spikes went to great lengths to say the team has to stay together and that it's OK if they rip each other, but he will defend outsiders who rip his teammates. Which is why he said he lashed back at some fans doling out verbal abuse during Sunday's loss to the Steelers.

"I shouldn't have said those things," Spikes said.

But the emotion got the better of him in the 24-0 halftime. Offense and defense went to the other end of the locker room, but the offense had no trouble hearing Spikes' tirade about embarrassment and pride.

"He said what was on his mind. Everything he said was true," said rookie left tackle Levi Jones. "I felt what he said. I understood what he said, and I see it as true. He said he was getting sick of always being embarrassed on TV and we all are. I've been here six games and I'm sick of it."

The most moving part of Spikes' interview Monday is his belief the Bengals lack identity.

"Go back in history to all the great teams," Spikes said. "Miami in the 70s, the damn Steelers. I don't care if they have an off year. It's something about that feeling that they always had. That character, that integrity that's been there from guys who brought it from way back. I don't give a damn about what kind of season they're having. . .They damn sure look like a damn Steeler team or a Miami Dolphin team."

Spikes said LeBeau is "a man of great integrity," and if he was coaching a veteran team like the Raiders, he would be using his same style. And, Spikes hinted he would be having success.

"Dick LeBeau is a great coach and a veteran coach," Spikes said. "I don't think there are enough guys on this team that understand that and I hate when we go out there and show the way we do that it's a reflection on him.

"I don't think they know how to respond to how he treats them," said Spikes of younger players. "He's not a guy that's going to walk around holding your hand and it shouldn't be that way. You're a grown (bleep) man. When you come into this locker room, you have to grow up. . .Right now, I don't think we have enough guys that understand that."

Spikes doesn't blame LeBeau for problems such as the one the Bengals encountered with one of their younger players a few weeks ago. The player was told to park in a certain spot at the facility, and if he parked in another spot he would be towed. He did the opposite.

"When you get your car towed," Spikes said, "don't come in here raising holy Hell."

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