Old Dog, new tricks

7-17-01,7:00 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Maybe this book is "Cyber Tiger," instead of "Paper Lion."

In one of his 42 NFL training camps as a player and coach, Dick LeBeau was near the center of George Plimpton's 1960s classic as "Paper Lion," detailed double sessions and rookie hazing in helping turn pro football into an American icon.

But Dick LeBeau, 63-year-old head coach heading into his 43rd training camp, wants nothing to do with putting his players in pads twice a day. Or with putting rookies up on the cafeteria table to sing their alma maters in his first training camp as head coach.

"I think (hazing) has gone the way of the single wing," LeBeau said Monday, taking a break from preparing for Friday's start of camp. "That doesn't help foster a family atmosphere. We're all in this thing together. if it doesn't help us win, I don't care what it is, we won't do it. That doesn't help you win, so we won't do it. The only thing we'll do is let the veterans pick out their seats in the meetings. I think if you've been in the league three or four years, you deserve to sit where you want."

Of course, there won't be much sitting, even though for the first time in his life LeBeau will be on a team that doesn't put on pads twice at least for a few days in camp.

"I want us to be active. I want us to be conditioned," LeBeau said. "When we go fast, I want us to go fast. i want there to be a focal point of when we go fast, that's how we're playing and executing. And I'm not sure that can be served by putting on pads twice a day. It will be interesting, and we'll monitor it to make sure we're getting done what we have to get done."

There are no predictions. There are no starters, backups, or special teamers. But there are warnings for his team. Asked about his major concerns heading into camp, and for LeBeau it's more about..

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the look and feel of the Bengals.

"I think we made strides on that last year and we need to make more strides on attitude and how we carry ourselves on the field," LeBeau said. "I'll tell you, if we don't have that look, we'll be on the field a lot. This is an exciting period for me because we have time to establish what we couldn't get to last year."

Those are things like moving the ball "more efficiently," with new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's system that tries to revive the NFL's llast-ranked pass offense and defending the pass "more efficiently than last year," as linebackers coach Mark Duffner assumes LeBeau's job of defensive coordinator of a unit that was last in AFC sacks. Duffner is running the meetings, calling the games and authoring the playbook.

"There'll be differences, but I won't speculate what they are," LeBeau said. "If they're too radical, I'm sure Mark and I will talk, but I want Mark to be Mark. I would never hire a guy just to run the meetings and not let him do the playbook. I wouldn't want that."

LeBeau is the fourth Bengals head coach who practiced in a training camp coached by Bengals founder Paul Brown. But even though Brown cut the future Pro Bowl cornerback back in 1959, LeBeau still has notes of that stint in Hiram, Ohio. And from most of the others he's attended these past six decades.

"We've gone dizzy trying to research what other teams do and for how long," LeBeau said. "I could tell you what Woody Hayes did when I was at Ohio State." Then he laughed, recalling maybe what seemed like three-a-days and the not-so-subtle half-line drills.

"But we won't do that."

That's because LeBeau is trying to put this camp into the context of a 2001 NFL season that is stretched out to four pre-season games, 16 regular games and two bye weeks. But Paul Brown left a mark.

"I distinctly remember the offense putting in one running play in the morning and one pass play in the afternoon," LeBeau said. "Now, that meant we weren't out there two and a half hours and there was crispness to it. It was organized. You knew what was expected of you and how it was expected and to us, that's sound. With me, I don't think a guy is ever going to say, 'But Coach, you didn't tell me what you wanted.'"

LeBeau is lifted by the presence of 12 players at least 30 years old, a stark contrast at this time when there was just two on the roster.

"it's not the age, it's their character and experience," LeBeau said. "Guys like Richmond Webb and Lorenzo Neal come from successful careers who are used to winning. We want to get used to winning. Guys like Tony Williams and Kevin Henry come from winners and they were major reasons their teams won. That sends a message to players and fans where this team is headed. "

This is also a landmark training camp for LeBeau because for the first time his son, Brandon, will be with him daily. Brandon LeBeau, a recent communications grad from Miami of Ohio, begins his season-long stint in the video department.

"I'll hardly see him, but this will be good for him because it's in his major," LeBeau said. "He's been at camp before, but only when he was small."

Actually, LeBeau has already pulled a camp ploy Plimpton would have loved. LeBeau greeted his team at minicamp in an Elvis getup dancing to the '60s tune "Give Me Some Lovin'." Asked if he had anything else up his ruffled sleeve, LeBeau said, "Then it wouldn't be a surprise."

And there should be no surprise that in the end, on Friday the Bengals are enrolling in LeBeau's Old School.

"Basically," he said, "Give Me Some Lovin' is going to change to "Give Me Some Winnin."

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