BY GEOFF HOBSON
TAMPA, Fla. _ Akili Smith and Corey Dillon are looking for encouraging signs from the Bengals.
Smith, the struggling franchise quarterback, seeks an offensive scheme that emphasizes his mobility. Dillon, the Pro Bowl running back, wants to see a tangible commitment to winning before he signs on the dotted line in free agency.
Wednesday's hiring of Bob Bratkowski as the non-household name offensive coordinator probably won't do much for both immediately.
But future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Warren Moon, who shares agents with Smith and Dillon, offered a solid endorsement of Bratkowski here Thursday after his retirement news conference at the Super Bowl.
Agent Leigh Steinberg said Smith needs the "one-on-one quarterback coaching," such as what Troy Aikman received from Norv Turner in Dallas and Steve Young from Mike Shanahan in San Francisco.
Moon, who had his last Pro Bowl season in Seattle when Bratkowski was the Seahawks' offensive coordinator, thinks Bratkowski is a good fit for Smith.
"I like Bob. I like his passing game mind," Moon said. "The thing I liked most about him is he let me be involved in the game plan a lot. He took ideas from me, what I thought was successful and the things I did best and that's what he let the quarterback do.
"A lot of people don't do that," Moon said. "A lot of people try to shove a system down your throat even though it's not best suited for your talents. But Bob kind of let me do the things that I did best and I think that's one of the reasons I had a successful (season). Hopefully he'll do that for the young kid."
Moon threw 25 touchdown passes for Bratkowski in 1997 and think of this. The Bengals have 24 touchdown passes the past two seasons.
Moon thinks Bratkowski's placid personality will be a lift for Smith.
"He's got a very calm demeanor," Moon said. "He's not one of these yellers. He's not a high-pressure guy. I think Akili will be comfortable around him. I think as a quarterback, that's what you want around you is a guy that has a relaxed type of demeanor that isn't going to get you too riled up or excited because at that position, especially a young player, you want to stay as calm as you possibly can. There's enough chaos going around you as it is."
Smith and Dillon couldn't be reached for comment. Steinberg said, "Anything that will make the Bengals better will encourage Corey."
Five years from today, Moon, 44, will be preparing for a first ballot election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He certainly left his mark on the Bengals.
In 17 NFL seasons, Moon threw 37 touchdown passes against Cincinnati, his most against any foe. He threw 25 each against two other AFC Central Division rivals in the Steelers and Browns.
PICKENS CLAUSE, CONT:** The first question at Thursday's annual NFL Players Association news conference concerned the Bengals' so-called Carl Pickens Clause.
On Monday, an arbitrator upheld the Bengals' right to attach loyalty language from the standard player contract to the signing bonus, which means the club could recoup some or all of the signing bonus if a player goes public with criticism or otherwise commits conduct detrimental to the team.
Despite the loss, the NFLPA reiterated Thursday it's advising players and agents not to sign the clause and predicts the ruling won't have a big impact around the league.
"Only one club does it and I don't expect anyone else will do it," said Richard Berthelsen, NFLPA general counsel. "It's not a league-wide rule that was upheld. It's something that has to be negotiated by the player and agent and we're advising them not to do it."
Bengals President Mike Brown said the club should have the right to negotiate such a clause. He didn't say he would go to the mat on the issue and make the clause a deal breaker. But he clearly wants the right to negotiate it, "after what we went through with Carl."
Brown disagrees with Berthelsen when he says, "It's another reason why free agents might not want to go to Cincinnati. I'm sure there are some players who will take a hard look at that. I just think it's another negative for the Bengals."
Leigh Steinberg, the new agent for Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon, isn't ready to take on the issue.
"I haven't seen it. I haven't looked at it," Steinberg said. "I've got so many issues with Mike Brown, let someone else fight that one."
By the way, the NFLPA released the one-year salary offers for transition and franchise free agents. The Bengals have to designate Dillon a transition free agent between Feb. 8 and Feb. 22, when they have to offer him a one-year deal for $3.67 million. He's headed to free agency March 2, although Steinberg said he'll call the Bengals before then to see what kind of offer they'll put on the table.
TOUGH SURVEY: They say players gripe the loudest after losing seasons, so the Bengals 4-12 record set the stage for a tough NFL Players Association survey.
Ten of the 53 Bengals rated the club's medical staff as "poor," a category where no other team had more than three. Only ten said it was "good," a league low.
Also, 39 Bengals said they had concerns about security at the club's facility, more than double the second-place team, Atlanta, which had 16 players expressing concerns.
The numbers surprised Bengals President Mike Brown, who said he believes the club is doing its utmost to meet the needs of the players.
"I think our medical staff is fine," Brown said. "I haven't heard complaints on how we handle the medical side of it."
Brown isn't surprised the Paul Brown Stadium grass took a pounding from the players.
A total of 81.5 percent of the Bengals rated the field as poor, the worst rating for a grass field. A total of 91.7 percent
of the Eagles said the notorious artificial turf of Veterans Stadium was poor.
League-wide, the players said Paul Brown Stadium had the fourth worst field in the league behind Veterans Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium and the Meadowlands.
But the club continues to say the problem will be corrected next season.
The Bengals had to use temporary Bermuda grass in the stadium when their bluegrass field was killed in a drought. The bluegrass held up well on the practice fields.
"Our players liked the practice fields and that's how the game field is going to be," Brown said. "We knew we were going to have problems this year because of the drought, but that's behind us now."