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No. 1 not No. 1 option

12-15-02, 12:55 p.m.

At 1-12, Bengaldom is pondering the first pick in the NFL Draft and other knotty problems. A sampling of this week's Hobson's Choice:

Why does the coaching staff not promote Akili Smith to #2 on the depth chart so that he can gain some familiarity with the receivers? Isn't it a foregone conclusion that Frerotte is finished as a Bengal after the season. Even if Kitna were to get injured, does Frerotte really give you that much more than Smith? And if Mike Brown really likes Akili Smith and would like to see him at #1 or #2, why does he just sit back and watch a lame-duck coaching staff continue on the current course? Also, if LeBeau were to go at the end of the season, who is likely to go with him? Duffner doesn't exactly have the defense playing inspired football. Roberts special teams squad has had serious lapses in any number of different games. At what point is the coach responsible for the poor performance of his players? Are not the culpable players being called out? Who would be most likely to succeed LeBeau should he go? (I hope I've given you something to write about and that you can provide the "Inside Story Line!") **MICHAEL, Waukegan, IL.

MICHAEL: The Akili situation gives credence to Brown's insistence that he pretty much stays out of the coaches' way when it comes down to playing time. Yes, Frerotte is done here and Brown knows that and, at some point, he would like to get Smith one last shot.

But it seems pretty clear that the coaches are extremely down on Smith after what he did against Tampa Bay. This is a staff that has been fighting for wins to stay alive, so if they're saying that Frerotte gives them their best chance to win after Kitna, that is saying something.

That is the big question. If LeBeau goes, will Brown let a head coach bring in an entire staff? It's very doubtful (and certainly not practical or effective) for a new guy to keep around key members of an old staff. And, really, the evidence shows that Brown does give his head coach some latitude in this area, more than the perception.

Just look at LeBeau himself. After Dave Shula took over in 1992, LeBeau, just released as the defensive coordinator, wanted to return as Shula's secondary coach. But Shula wanted a brand new start with his own defensive staff and LeBeau went to Pittsburgh.

And, after the 2000 season, LeBeau had the chance to form his own staff when he got the job in his own right. But he chose to stick with the guys who stuck with him after he got the job in midseason. Maybe both Brown and LeBeau have been loyal to a fault.**

Since there is an overwhelming possibility that we will have the first pick in the 2003 draft.What chances do we have that cincy will trade down to chicago or carolina so that they can grab Leftwich or Palmer.? The reality coming into next year's draft is

Cincinnati has to draft a defensive end,tackle and cornerback and they will have to do it early.Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells and Bill Walsh continuously moved pick's around to get not only quality but a quantity of players to help their teams succeed.Each time cincinnati was a playoff team it was due to some form of draft move.Granted it hasn't always worked for cincinnati such as kijana carter,but with more talent to evaluate, it forces the "real" players to perform unlike the team's history of not having anyone from the coaching staff or the players being held accountable. **CHRISTOPHER, Covington, GA.

CHRISTOPHER: The first pick in the NFL Draft is now the booby prize instead of a nice parting gift. As the signing bonuses have mushroomed, the options to move down have dwindled. No one wants to trade up anymore. Compared to the days of Walsh, Johnson and Parcells, the No. 1 pick is now a plague and everyone is seeking shelter at a safe pick like No. 10.

You have to dole out 15 million plus to a guy who is just as much a question mark as the guy at No. 32 and the problem isn't so much giving him all that money, it's that you have to give all that money to him and no one else, and probably after a tractor pull of a holdout. Another mega contract prevents teams from signing more free agents or paying their own players. It's not as easy to give up that No. 5 like the old days of 1995.

You are right on about what they need at No. 1. It's not a quarterback, but an impact defensive player on the defensive line or at cornerback.**

The problem of the Bengals isn't that the owner is also the general manager, it's that the owner is Mike Brown and he is also the general manager. Paul Brown was responsible for putting a lot of the staff in place that knew football and were innovative for their time. Mike Brown ran day to day operations, but he always had his dad making the staff descisions and bringing in the Walsh's, the Wyche's, the Gregg's, the McNally's, etc... I don't believe Mike Brown is too cheap to bring in the new versions of these guys, but I believe he doesn't know who they are because he doesn't know football like his father. The reason we are calling for a GM is because we want someone who knows how to find top coaching talent to bring in the staff, including scouts, that this team needs. We know as long as Mike Brown is the general manager, he won't find the right people to get this franchise on track. Do you think that there is a way we can get Mike to realize that he just isn't cutting it as far as getting the right coaching staff in here? **Brian, Cincinnati, OH

BRIAN: I don't think it's a matter of Mike not being able to find these guys or knowing where they are. He knows, but it's more a question of philosophy than brains. Unlike his father, Mike has been hesitant to go outside the organization because of continuity sake. And that's where the firestorm lies. Why, for any sake, would you want to keep the continuity of 12 dreadful years? That's why this is such a huge offseason for him. If he does make a change, he's got no choice but to go elsewhere. But he isn't showing his hand.**

Do you think that the Bengals would be wise to select Byron Leftwich from Marshall with the first pick in the next draft? He looks to have more ability than anybody on the current roster to run the bengals. Or will Mr. Brown do the normal routine and choose a special teams player with the # 1 pick or something stupid like that? **Steve, Point Pleasant, WV.

STEVE: It looks more and more like a quarterback isn't going to be a consensus No. 1 pick without some pre-draft momentum. Quarterback isn't a pressing problem right now. Defense and getting movement up front in the running game is. An early call: They go defensive tackle or cornerback in round one and guard-center in round two.**

With rookie safety Lamont Thompson now placed on Injured Reserve, and his production this season below expectations does this make the re-signing of free agent safety Cory Hall during the off-season even more important to the franchise? **Drew, Louisville, KY

DREW: They haven't been enamored with the safety play this season and that looks to be a position that is going to face a major overhaul next season. Thompson played a little tentative and rookie strong safety Marquand Manuel got moved out when they couldn't stop the run. The jury is still out on the kids, but there is an excellent chance they could be looking to go in a different direction with veterans if there is a new staff. And maybe if there's not.**

I'm almost too apathetic to write this, so I hope Mr. Brown realizes many fans just do not care anymore. Getting on to my question, Bengals management asked Kitna to cut down the INTs, have a better passer rating, and completion rating. He's done all that. He has a higher yard per attempt probably too. My goodness, what more can the man do? Do not draft a first round QB. Take the Defensive Tackle from Miami. Get help for the entire defense. Get special teams straight. Leave the offense. And leave LeBeau, Brown is like the President, LeBeau is like the General, it all starts with the President. **Matt, Cincinnati, OH.

MATT: He sees the empty seats every Sunday. He knows all too well how far down the Bengals are in the community. Kitna has done everything asked of him, but win, which is the most important quarterback stat.

But rather than just one win showing that Kitna is lacking something, it shows that the quarterback isn't the end-all and be-all. You can still have a 90-percent QB rating and lose because of special tams failure, poor defense, and lack of a consistent running game. There is no reason they shouldn't be able to run the ball with how Kitna is throwing. To say the offense is fine is a fallacy because it ignores the fall of the running game. If you can't run, you can't win no matter how pretty the passing stats. It's a major reason they haven't kept their leads.**

Is it just me, or is Akili Smith one of the most selfish and least team oriented players on the squad? All I hear about on is how Akili wants out of Cincinnati. How he was excited to get a chance against Tampa Bay, and then whined that he only had two days of practice AFTER he stunk it up on the field. How the coaches don't have any loyalty to him and so on and so on. You do not hear Gus or Kitna carrying on this way. Maybe Akili should focus on preparing and studying to be an adult, as well as a quarterback in the NFL. **Neil, Villanova, OH

NEIL: That's a legitimate view. Here's the flip side for argument's sake. He has supported Kitna and said he ought to be playing if he's playing well. Smith hasn't been disruptive that way. His only point is, if you don't think I'm the guy, get rid of me. That may be selfish, but it can also be viewed as practical. In Smith's defense, they put him in for just one game, against arguably the NFL's best defense, and that's the only shot he gets while Kitna throws three interceptions in his first start and gets another start.

But the major thing working against Smith is when he's played, he hasn't shown a flicker of being the player they think he can be. How can you stand for 117 passing yards as a coach?**

What's up with the kick-offs that come down anywhere between the 10-20 yard line? I thought one of the reasons the Bengals kept Rackers around was because of his strong leg? Opponents consistently start anywhere beyond the 30 yard line and usually with 1 first down their already in Bengal territory. Is he not able to kick the ball in the end zone? Mike Nugent of the Buckeyes (I realize he has a 5 yard advantage - 35 vs 30) has consistently kicked the ball OUT OF THE END ZONE! Rackers hasn't come close! Bengals give their opponent a field that is many times 15-20 yards shorter than it should be. Your thoughts from a frustrated NFL Sunday Ticket holder. (Will the Bengals validate my subscription? My wife thinks I'm crazy for paying over $100 to watch a team that is 1-12, I'm beginning to thinks so too! Go Buckeyes!!!! **Eric, Dubuque, IA.

Your thoughts are my thoughts. A major reason they stuck with Rackers during his field-goal woes is his leg strength and ability to kick off into the end zone. That's why they cut Richie Cunningham and it was a factor in Rackers getting the nod over Dorsch in training camp. It's a mystery why they have been so short, although it looks like he could still be struggling with the ankle he sprained in practice about a month ago. But, yes, the short kickoffs have hurt them almost as much as the blatant special teams turnovers.**

The last home game I missed(non preseason) was in '83 or '84. So I've seen good,bad, and ugly.Why should I renew my tickets when it appears nothing major is going to change? PS: Falcons in November '83 or '84? That was last game I missed. I'd love to know which year it was. **Robert, Milford, Ohio.

ROBERT: Great running back. Good offense. Rotating schedule. Beautiful stadium. But your point is well taken. Fans want and need wins. They need hope to come to the building. Stay tuned. To say there are going to be no major changes is premature. (The Bengals beat the Falcons, 35-14, on Nov. 15,1984.)**

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