8-5-03, 5:55 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ There were a total of 1,175 sacks in the NFL last season and the Bengals defensive line is going to see them all.
When head coach Marvin Lewis coached the Steelers linebackers a decade ago, he pieced together tape of guys like Charles Haley, Derrick Thomas, Pat Swilling, and Rickey Jackson for Greg Lloyd and the guys who made up that renowned "Blitzburgh," defense.
Now defensive line coach Jay Hayes is offering the video cutups of each play by team, ranging from the Eagles' league-best of 56 to the Cardinals' league-low of 21, and the Bengals' AFC-worst 24. They have been culled and put on a CD so linemen can take it home to watch them or put them into their laptops to catch snippets of teams like the Jets, their foe in Sunday's pre-season opener at Giants Stadium.
Although ends Justin Smith and Duane Clemons each racked up their two sacks against inexperienced tackles in Saturday's mock game, the aggressiveness comforted a coaching staff that is building a defensive revival on attitude and play-calling as much as talent.
"I don't know if I said to myself I've picked up a specific move off the tapes, but I think it helps subconsciously," says Clemons, who became the team's career sack leader with 35 when he signed in May as a free agent. "Just creating things on the go, those little pictures in your mind help you get focused."
Clemons brings a sack of credentials. From 1999-2001, he had 23.5 sacks with the Vikings and Chiefs. No Bengal has approached that three-year run since defensive end Alfred Williams had 23.5 from 1992-94. With 14 in his first two seasons, Smith has a shot. He's the symbol of a defense that set a franchise record with 48 sacks in 2001 but had just half that in 2002. Smith, who set a club rookie record with 8.5 sacks in '01, had 6.5 in a season the Bengals rarely had the lead.
"I don't think it was anything he was taught or what he was doing. He was the same player," Hayes said. "I just think you have to look at is the circumstances of the ballgames."
Smith says a major circumstance last year was the failure to stop the run and never getting quarterbacks in third-and-long. Indeed, Hayes says he wants Smith to be known as more than just a sack artist. After watching Lewis get on the defense for not stopping the run in Friday's intrasquad scrimmage, Smith thinks those run amok days are gone.
"There is more focus on technique and being fundamentally sound," Smith said. "It's more fundamentally-based. He wants the proper technique every time. We saw that Saturday. It's not just OK to say 'Come on, let's go.' It's do or die with these guys. Everybody kind of feels that. Everybody is being more accountable. Last year, guys would be in the B gap trying to make a play in the C gap, and then that running back cuts back and that was our problem last year. We're really stressing that this year. Hopefully, we get people on the ropes instead of being on the ropes and we get more opportunity to get sacks."
Smith still lives by his explosive first step around the outside, but he's also working on counter moves and working inside. Yet i one thing the sack tape shows it's that luck and what your teammates do matters as much as what you do.
"The good teams get the sacks because they're the ones that have the lead," said end Reinard Wilson, who went from a team-high nine sacks to none. "And a lot of times you'll get one because you're teammate made a play for you."
Wilson is perturbed because he's not on any of the tapes, and Clemons isn't happy you can only see him twice on the Chiefs' last-ranked defense in the NFL after averaging nearly eight sacks in the previous three seasons.
"I have to take some of the blame for that," Clemons says. "But I was able to walk away from that situation with a new appreciation for the game in coming here .I guess you could call it a revival of my career, but as far as I'm concerned, I still have a lot of good years left."
Clemons had good years in Minnesota, where he had 18.5 sacks in his last 16 starts. He thinks this defense can muster the same mentality and he feels he'll get more than two sacks.
"We're going to be productive, we're going to have a high sack level," Clemons said. "I played on a real aggressive team in Minnesota, but we were on a team that could score 40 points a game. We said, "We'll play the run all the way to the quarterback,' because we knew when teams ran the ball, they couldn't win that way.
"I think over time as the entire team develops and we're playing at our level and the offense is scoring a lot of points, teams will have to play with their backs to the wall against us," Clemons said. "We've got a lot of guys that are battle-tested and war-proven and are going to make a lot of plays."
Smith is looking to add to his moves all the time, but he mainly watches the sack tape to study the offensive tackles and how he might be able to beat them. Hayes is a big admirer of his speed rush and wants to add to his menu.
"Just having him keep working at the little things," Hayes said. "Take what people give him, work to counter off his speed. He's getting better at it. He has to be able to counter when someone catches up to his speed. He has to be able to work an inside move, or working back inside. The guy's a competitor."
Lewis likes the sack breakdown because it pretty much reinforces the principles his coaches are teaching on how to get to the quarterback.
"The predominant thing is the numbers of sacks coming off of rip arms (around the outside), is probably a lot greater than over arms," Lewis said. "If you look at the whole thing, the guys that can get their hands inside, for the most part the more effective rushers take off their hands inside. That way they get some separation between him and the offensive guy."
If it sounds pretty basic, it is. Which is the point.
"I'm looking for some big things," Smith said. "We're focusing on the fundamentals and the big thing is the accountability. Everyone has to be accountable is what they're telling us."