Scrimmaging with issues

7-31-03, 8:55 p.m.

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Quote of the week.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis acknowledging, "You can't win with church mice."

He continues his painstaking search for the right brew of brains and bombast and talent and tenacity when Lewiston takes a break from the grinding two-a-days this weekend to take stock of the roster in Friday night's intrasquad scrimmage and Saturday afternoon's Orange-and-Black Game here at Georgetown College.

In Friday's 6:30 p.m. scrimmage, the offense goes against the defense in live tackling with no score kept. At 1 p.m. Saturday, the Orange plays the Black in a game of no tackling with scoring that pits the starters against the reserves.

Here are some issues to watch this weekend:

1. The first debut of rookie quarterback Carson Palmer _ The No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft has been as advertised and there is a definite buzz that the David Klingler-Akili Smith curse has been lifted. Not now because he's away aways as evidenced by an interception in each workout Thursday.

But he throws easily, accurately, and long. Yet, it's his grasp of the mind game that has made a mark on his coaches, greatly impressing Lewis and his staff when he attended the funeral of his 87-year-old grandmother a week ago Thursday and then hopped a red-eye flight from the coast to be here on time for training camp.

"It's the mechanics, the understanding of the offense, managing the team is where he's a little ahead of where I thought he would be,' said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.

Players can be more enthusiastic than coaches. Right tackle Willie Anderson, who has lined up for eight different starting quarterbacks, has become something of an amateur expert on the position and he likes the fact he doesn't see the "deer-in-the-headlights look gazing back at him.

"Right now, he's making some throws and taking command of the offense that show you why he was picked so high," Anderson said. "He hasn't been holding on to the ball for too long, or making the wrong drops like young quarterbacks. He's got a big-time arm, and he makes throws with pocket awareness when the rush comes in there. He doesn't freeze."

Palmer is showing the maturity the Bengals researched back in the spring before the draft. He couldn't get much higher than his July 5 wedding at Pebble Beach and ensuing 10-day Hawaiian vacation, and he couldn't get much lower when Betty Palmer passed away a week before camp started.

"My whole life has been a rollercoaster," said Palmer, who is smart enough to envision the same ride in the NFL.

Here is a guy who started four years at football-crazed USC, endured big-city media, and won the Heisman Trophy. So getting 35 to 40 snaps Saturday in a mock game is not exactly overwhelming. His keel is as even as a tabletop. He does what he's supposed to do. On Thursday, in between practices and sit-down interviews with ESPN.com, "The Washington Times," and the "Los Angeles Times," Palmer signed every autograph thrust at him.

"I'm not treating this any differently than practice," Palmer said. "I'm not trying to do anything spectacular other than getting better at certain things and working on certain things. I'm not trying to oooh and ahhh anybody. My job is to control the huddle, control the game tempo, and do all that. I've never played for certain stats. Right now, I'm just playing to get better."

He thinks Thursday's two picks will make him better. In the morning, he rolled out in the red zone and tried to jam a pass in tight and got intercepted by rookie free-agent cornerback Terrell Roberts. In the afternoon, he tried to hit wide receiver Kwazeon Leverette over the middle and veteran cornerback Artrell Hawkins jumped the route.

"A veteran making a play on a rookie," Palmer said. "I got had by an older guy. He knew the route coming up, and he made a good play on it. At this point, some times interceptions aren't the worst thing because you always learn from it. Use my eyes a little more. The one in the red zone, I've got to just throw it out-of-bounds. I'm just playing to get better."

Bratkowski isn't looking for weekend fireworks, either. Yes, he can make all the throws, but Bratkowski sees that every day. Here is what he wants to see from Palmer this weekend:

"Move the team, manage the team, get them in protections, recognize blitzes, get us in the right run checks."

**

  1. How running back Corey Dillon is used _ ** Dillon has traditionally not taken a snap until the third pre-season game, but he's already taken more shots this week in live work than he probably took in the past three camps combined. His body language suggests he's trying to adjust and he's not thrilled with the idea of getting some work Friday night. But Lewis and Dillon seem to be on the same page, although Lewis gave an answer worthy of an Iowa caucus presidential debate when asked if the fans will see Dillon.

"They'll see him,' said Lewis with a smile. "We have passing (drills) prior to the game. Corey has had a lot of the contact everybody has had thus far. I want to be smart with Corey Dillon. Corey doesn't have to prove anything to me. Corey does want to be a part of that for his teammates, which is important. We'll judiciously watch Corey."

As for Dillon, he said, "That's for the youngsters." Lewis hasn't told him his plan, but he says he'll do what the coach says while he concentrates solely on getting ready for the season.

"I'm not talking like I'm King Kong or anything and I mean no disrespect, but I don't know what kind of benefit I can get out of it," Dillon said.

Dillon acknowledged he's taken more pops more earlier this year, and he shook his head when he got swarmed during Wednesday's goal-line drill and didn't punch it in the end zone. But he also knows he's adjusting to a new regime.

"I don't think anybody likes being hit," Dillon said. "It's part of the game. He's got his game plan and that's what we're going to do. I'm not too concerned about anything but getting ready for the season."

**

  1. Defensive tackle Oliver Gibson's return from a torn Achilles' tendon _ ** It looks like Gibson has retained his signature speed, which has delighted a coaching staff that is becoming quietly excited about depth with the solid play of starting tackles John Thornton and Tony Williams.

"I was really pleased with Oliver yesterday," Lewis said Wednesday. "His temperament is kind of the way I remember it as a young layer. A burr in the offense's side all the time. He kind of likes that role."

Gibson walked off the field Thursday afternoon declaring, "I don't feel it, I don't think about it. I'm not sore at all." Told that some folks are surprised how good he's looked so early, Gibson said, "They shouldn't. They should know me. You don't miss a practice for seven-and-a-half years without bouncing back from injury."

Defensive line coach Jay Hayes wants him to continue to do the fundamentals during the weekend, such as staying low and bringing his hands with his body.

"He looks like himself," said Hayes, who said his quickness from earlier in the week has held up. "So far, so good. It's going in the direction we hoped it would."

You can't tell the linemen without a program. Gibson, who has started all 57 of his Bengals' games, is listed behind Tony Williams on the depth chart. But that is useless in Hayes' rotation he vows is going to include every active linemen on regular-season Sundays.

**

  1. Lewis unveils his brand of no-nonsense professionalism _ ** It happened Wednesday and Lewis doesn't want to see it again. The offense had just come off a brisk, effective set on goal line, and then on the very next play of team drills, Kitna's feet got tangled with the center and he went down.

"Those are the things we can't have," Lewis said. "If you go back to (games) from last year, how many times did that occur? Go down the field, go down the field, then the ball bounces off somebody that should have made the catch and it's intercepted. Those are the kind of things that we can't have."

Lewis doesn't want to see a team that can't handle success or the mindless penalties that have bogged this team for what seems forever. This weekend, he wants discipline with an edge, which is why on Wednesday he read the riot act about, "cut out all that after-snap stuff."

Lewis' advice on treating the opponent?

"Pat them on the back and tell them to go back to the huddle and knock their head off the next play," Lewis said. "You can't do it on Sundays, so why practice it? Don't even allow it in the mindset. It happens on Sundays, it will cost us 15 yards and that's a selfish penalty. It doesn't do any good. It's the sign of a bad, mediocre football team and not a championship team."

**

  1. Chris Edmonds lines up at his third position in three scrimmages as the starting fullback _ ** When Edmonds, a former linebacker, made the switch from tight end this spring, the worry was about the pad level of a 6-3, 250-pound player trying to lead block. It's been pretty good, but people this week have been really impressed with his quickness and willingness to throw his body into the hole.

"He's got a long ways to go, but he's coming after people," said running backs coach Jim Anderson. "He's taken the bull by the horns, now it's up to me to refine him with all the little things we do as backs."

Edmonds gives himself a six out of 10 for his pad level, and says he has to keep working on his leverage as he tries to play more like 5-11. At the moment, he is just concerned about being physical enough, and the Bengals have been pleased with his explosiveness as well as catching the ball.

"If I'm going to hit you, everything else will work itself out," Edmonds said. "I don't want to take away from what I do, which is making good contact. I don't want to get too technical because I'm just running full speed into people."

Edmonds doesn't like the individual blocking drills because the linebackers know what's coming, which he says is how backer Dwayne Levels blew him up as he shuffled his feet on a draw play. He likes the indecision of linebackers in 11-on-11.

What Anderson wants to see from Edmonds this weekend is blocking, blocking, and more blocking.

"I want to see contact and guys cover some people up," Anderson said. "When you cover them up, that gives the back a two-way go. If you don't cover him, if you just miss him or get half of him, or just some of him, the back can only go one way."

**

  1. In his third season, quarterback Jon Kitna makes his first appearance in the intrasquad scrimmage as the unquestioned Opening Day starter _ ** Kitna feels so confident about the people around him ("The best cast of characters I've ever had in the NFL"), that he thinks he can make a run to the Pro Bowl with the first 4,000-yard passing season in Bengals' history. Figure out his numbers for 16 games last season instead of the dozen he started, and the number is 4,237.

" If I can play 16 games barring injury or anything unforeseen happening, I think 4,000 yards is a possibility," Kitna said. "That's about what they look for from quarterbacks that go to the Pro Bowl. It's not so much the confidence I have in myself, but the people around me."

Not only the people around him, but they are the same people who have been around him for three seasons. Kitna has seen the benefits this week, in which there have been fewer mistakes with more plays.

"We've been able to install more earlier this year, and not only install it, but work on it and use it effectively," Kitna said.

The weekend should put up better offensive numbers than the woeful numbers of recent intrasquad scrimmages. Bratkowski is simply looking for, "the confidence to score when we have to score. The ability to score as many points as we need to win."

**

7.Cornerback Jeff Burris begins his Bengals' career from scratch _ ** Burris, who came over from the Colts as a free-agent before last season, took a lot of heat for the play of the secondary. But Lewis has made a point of defending him, alluding to "uneducated," criticism and saying, "Jeff Burris didn't just become a bad player when he got here." Now Burris, 31, and in his 10th season, looks to be rejuvenated.

"I want to show people that I can still play this game, win and have fun," Burris said.

"Last year was last year and I'm not going to make excuses about it," Burris said. "You learn things going through adversity. I'm a new person after going through that."

Burris has never said he was left stranded out there because of a bunch of factors (young safeties, complicated scheme, bad field position), but he will say the defense will be better in total.

"I love the scheme," Burris said. "We've got three coaches who know defensive backs (Secondary coach Kevin Coyle, assistant Louie Cioffi, coordinator Leslie Frazier), plus Coach Lewis, so that gives you four different coaches giving you solid advice and it's going to be easier to understand."

Burris wouldn't comment on the complexity of last year's scheme, but did say, "There's no gray area. Everything is set on how the offense lines up. There's no indecision. It's Football 101."

8. Peter Warrick returns to punt returns for rebuilt special teams that has taken a major profile in the Lewis regime _ New position coach Darrin Simmons spent the spring schooling Warrick and decided Thursday, "It's not that he never thought about any of this stuff, he just reacted to it. Now he's able to better understand it."

One of the things Warrick understands better is reading clues in order to make catching punts easier. Simmons has spun at him left-footed punts and right-footed punts out of machines and taught him where the spin and wind takes it. He has also taught him to read the nose of the ball. Up, it curves one way. Down, it twists the other way.

The attention to detail should be on display this weekend since Lewis has told his players he plans to cut and keep reserves pretty much on the basis of special teams.

"We're looking for an attitude and a commitment and Marvin has been a huge help in that," Simmons said. "He's told them if they're not starting, a huge thing is how they're going to be judged on is how they contribute to the kicking game.'

**

  1. The safeties put on display their six-man scrum _ ** Coyle is presiding over a furious depth-chart battle in which starting free safety Mark Roman and strong safety Marquand Manuel are fending off two groups. Converted cornerback Kevin Kaesviharn is at free safety with strong safety Rogers Beckett, and free safety Lamont Thompson is with strong safety JoJuan Armour

"We're going to try and even out the reps this weekend and in the games so we can get a real feel for it," Coyle said. "Not just one group working with the first team. I think we're going to need to get to see different combinations .of the guys working together. We'll work all those guys with the first team. It has no reflection on how those other guys are doing, but just to get people working with the other groups because it's going to make a difference."

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