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Line goes on offensive

8-12-01, 9:45 p.m.


GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ The Bengals' offensive line figures its pre-season bye week couldn't have come at a better time after two uncertain, disturbing outings.

After allowing seven sacks last Friday night following a sluggish performance in the opener against defensive lines using stunts and gimmicks, head coach Dick LeBeau has seen enough. Even though the team won't practice in pads this week, pass-protection is in for some heavy-duty work.

"Precision drills and execution," said LeBeau of his plan for his team this week at Georgetown College.

That could have been directed at a starting line grappling with new pass-protection calls and philosophy.

Right tackle Willie Anderson looks forward to a week in which the line plans to review one pass-protection a day and work against what offensive line coach Paul Alexander calls "the 600 things," a defense can use against it.

But Alexander thinks it will all be worth it in the end because the new scheme picks up more pass rushers with fewer people.

"All the protections have new assignments and new techniques," Alexander said. "And these guys have been together for a long time and

have trained their reactions to respond in such a way and now they have to untrain and train themselves with new responses.

"Any hesitation and it all breaks down and we're a hair slow right now," Alexander said.

Alexander refused to get into specifics, but his linemen have more responsibilities mentally and physically this year. Anderson, who didn't play Friday because of a sore ankle, thinks a week of playing mind games instead of real games will reinforce what is on paper.

"Right now, when they call '16,' in the running game, an attacking light clicks on and we play with confidence," Anderson said. "In the passing game, the light doesn't click on as quick yet because it's not real natural for us right now. Now we've got a week to step back and look at it."

New offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has kept the scheme of the NFL's second-best running game from last season pretty much intact for a line that returns every starter but one. Since the newcomer is seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Richmond Webb, no one is worried about him picking up anything.

"It's not that hard. I think you just get a feel for the guy playing next to you," Webb said. "The more you play with him, the more you can communicate."

The focus has been on the tackles because it appears they have had trouble picking up the outside-to-inside moves. But Webb has played well and while Jamain Stephens, Anderson's backup, struggled, he was also playing hurt. In the view from the middle, it's a matter of the perimeter players working with the inside people.

Center Rich Braham says much of the problems stems from knowing how teammates are going to react to a certain look if they are required to help him on a block. How much help, say, will a tackle give a guard.

There are conversations going around after a play such as, "I had the linebacker, but I didn't know that fast."

"Those are some of the things we're trying to tweak and until we get to that point," Braham said, "it's not going to be real pretty."

It didn't help that in last week's opener in Chicago the Bears came out in a rare odd front and the three-man line caused double the problems. Braham said Detroit's four-man line was easier to figure and they pretty much knew whom to block, but it came down to timing.

The Bengals are also trying to guard against being too aggressive on the gimmicks. They haven't been as patient as the have been in the past.

"We'll get it fixed," Braham said.

Which is what LeBeau has in mind for an off week that won't be all that off until the weekend.

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