11-10-02, 12:30 p.m.
After the first half of the season, Bengaldom is faced with the decade-old dilemma.
Root for a 1-7 finish so a 2-14 implosion forces Bengals President Mike Brown to not only clean house, but to build a new one. Or root for a 7-2 run because, well, winning is better than losing.
This week's sampling of Hobson's Choice:
Do you think the Bengals will hire drafting recruites? Is it a problem? **Brock, Columbus, Ohio.
BROCK:If you mean hiring more scouts, it looks to be an item on the agenda in the possible off-season moves and, in one man's opinion, it has to be done. In theory, the idea of coaches scouting their own players is solid. But it's hard to go by theory when paper says you haven't had a winning season in 12 years. That would suggest one of two things. Either the coaches can't scout, or they can't develop the players they scout.
It's an age of specialization for coaches, too. In this day of complex Xs and Os, the conventional wisdom is coaches are best left to concentrate on football while scouts concentrate on personnel.**
Jon Kitna looked very solid against Houston. In my humble opinion... he is the man in Cincinnati. Do you think he will have the starting job in 2003? The same question applies for Dick Lebeau. **Jon, Phoenix, AZ.
JON: If Kitna keeps playing like this, he'll be the quarterback in '03 '04, and looking at a huge contract extension. But he's 30 years old with three full seasons under his belt and the numbers and knock on him say he's too streaky. If he doesn'throw a pick against the Ravens Sunday, it will be the first time in his career he has gone three straight games without throwing an interception.
As for LeBeau, indications have been he's in the last year of
his deal and the CW is that he won't be back. Of course, if they go on a last-ditch run that gives them seven wins, it would be an interesting call. But you figure a second straight 6-10 season or less doesn't do it.
There isn't a better guy in the NFL than LeBeau. He's that rare brew of intelligence, experience, toughness, humor and grace under pressure. And since he's a smart man, he knows he may have very well sealed his fate when he didn't go into training camp with a set quarterback.**
Can you see a Bengals Run and a 9-7 season? Can you see a week 13 or 14 afc north knot with every team having the same record? Do you see Kitna finishing the season as the starter of we do not make such a run? Has there been any talk of new Uniforms in the near future? **Roger, Hendersonville, N.C.
ROGER: The Steelers have the best team and the only thing that can stop them from winning the thing at 10-6 is Tommy Maddox blowing up and having to go back to Kordell Stewart at quarterback, and that's only if Stewart plays like he did at the beginning of the season. If that happens, you could have a knot. And, if the Browns could run the ball, if Jeff Blake could get hot, and if the Bengals could get their defense like it was last November and December, maybe you would get that knot.
Of course, they would have to win out to go 9-7 and that would mean a nine-game winning streak and they haven't won nine games in a season since '90, so don't go to the boats on the river. Their remaining games are against teams with a combined record of 32-34, but it's a schedule that includes two of the league's biggest surprises on the road in Carolina and Buffalo, and a Super Bowl contender in New Orleans at home.
If the Bengals lose a couple of more games, look for Akili Smith to get some kind of shot at the end of the season.
The Bengals equipment managers, Rob Recker and Jeff Brickner, are always considering changes to the uniform. Many of the players would love to go all black a la the University of Cincinnati, but there are no signs of an overhaul for color scheme or design in the near future.**
Geoff, With TE Sean Brewer placed on Injured Reserve for the 2nd year in a row, what are the chances of the Bengals giving up on last years tight end prospect and focusing more on Matt Schobel, Chris Edmonds, and practice squad pick-up Derek Smith? **Drew, Louisville, KY
DREW: Brewer is now going to have a tough time making it next year, simply because he has dressed for just three out of 32 NFL games. Coaches and scouts are extremely high on Edmonds because of his athleticism and his willingness and physicality blocking. Edmonds has good hands and he helps them on special teams. Once he figures out the blocking schemes, he's got a good chance to be a No. 2 tight end behind Schobel.
They see Derek Smith as a project, but they think if they can get him back to where he was early in his career at the University of Kentucky, they've got a guy who can help them. But clearly Schobel is their go-to-guy now and in the future.**
Why does it seem so difficult for the management of the Bengals to see the problem is in the coaching staff. The Bengals have loads of talent but the coaching staff doesn't appear able to get the productivity out of them. Maybe the thing to do on both offense and defense is to simplify the plays. Get back to basics. Loyalty to old players is one thing but the name of the game here is to win. **Don, McAllen, TX.
The coaches are under their most scrutiny since the 12-year down cycle began. Not only is their development of top draft picks in question, but the combined half-time deficit this season of 132-55 also brings up the question of their preparation.
But it's never always just the players, or just management, or just the coaches. The staff has simplified things on offense since Kitna became the starter four games ago and it looks to be a smart move because they've racked up at least 384 yards in three of the games and are a yard away from being 2-2 since he became the starter.
Much of the defense's early problems were a product of woeful offensive production. Still, in the two games the Bengals scored enough points to win (Indianapolis and Tennessee) they didn't get the defense they needed.
Devil's Advocate: The offensive coaches have also been the victims of the decision to have a quarterback derby in training camp. Plus, the defensive coaches have been trying to take last year's No. 9 unit to the next level with rookie safeties.
No matter the reasons, the coaches know they are under the gun simply because of the record. But with Mike Brown not talking about the future, the answer on how far his loyalty stretches has to wait until Dec. 30.**