Smith welcomes change

1-31-2001 BY GEOFF HOBSON

Since he hasn't evaluated his personnel yet, new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski couldn't be very specific Wednesday about a Bengals' new playbook he hopes he has ready in a month and can lift the club from the NFL's passing basement.

But quarterback Akili Smith and wide receiver Peter Warrick liked the sound of Bratkowski's generalities:

_A "very quick," up-tempo and unpredictable offense that gets in and out of the huddle fast so it can shift into varying formations.

Bratkowski, the former Seahawks offensive coordinator who was the Steelers receivers coach the past two seasons, wants a scheme where the quarterback takes three- and five-step drops. That's so he can get rid of the ball quickly for high-percentage passes, "but at the same time (the offense) has the ability to make the big play," off play-action.

Plus, Bratkowski won't be averse to going with three- or four- receiver sets on first down.

"We're going to the playoffs this year," said Warrick Wednesday from Florida, although he was thinking more personnel than scheme. "We're going to get (injured receiver) Darnay Scott back and that's going to be a big lift.

"With three receivers, I'll be in the slot a lot and that's me. It should take some heat off our running game."

Smith sounded hopeful from San Diego and is ready to cut short his upcoming workouts in Los Angeles if it means Bratkowski wants him in Cincinnati.

"I like the three, five steps. That should help me get out of the pocket more and some play-action and let's go," said Smith, who has lobbied for more rollouts. "Getting in and out of the huddle at a fast pace, that's what I was talking about last year. A new scheme, a healthy Darnay Scott and (Pro Bowl running back) Corey Dillon back, and we're tough. I'm ready to rock and roll with this guy."

Ray Smith, Akili's father, said he hopes Bratkowski takes the time to cultivate a personal relationship with his son that he feels has been missing since the Bengals drafted him with the third pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.

"I think Akili is excited about moving forward," Ray Smith said.

Akili Smith is one of the Bengals who thinks they were a bit too predictable last season, particularly on first and third down.

"It seemed like on certain third downs, teams knew our (pass) protections," Smith said. "And on first down, if we went with double tight ends, I think teams had a pretty good idea we were running or going play-action."

Bratkowski also emphasized "repetition," which should relieve some Bengals. Some said the plays that were run all training camp got ditched for the most part once the regular season started, when different plays were put in weekly and some players thought that hurt execution.

Smith said he has no problems with LeBeau's dictum that all 22 spots on the team are up for grabs. But he hopes the club hasn't given up on him, either, after throwing just three touchdown passes in his last 341 attempts and getting benched after last season's tenth game.

"I think Dick LeBeau and (Bengals President) Mike Brown are looking at the other (quarterbacks) and are mad at me," said Smith, referring to his class of '99 mates.

"They all had schemes and veteran players and defenses around them," Smith said. "Look at that defense in Philadelphia that kept Donovan (McNabb) on the field. The same with Shaun King in Tampa. Look at the supporting cast Daunte Culpepper has in Minnesota. They have to look at that."

What Bratkowski is looking at is what his personnel can do. So he won't commit to anything but running the ball.

As he wished for Pro Bowl free-agent running back Corey Dillon's return, LeBeau piped up from the back of Wednesday's news conference, "I can help you there, Coach. We're going to run the ball no matter who the running back is."

From Hawaii, where he's getting ready for Sunday's Pro Bowl, Dillon said, "It sounds and looks good, but I don't know what else I can say about it."

Smith agreed, ("It looks good now, but we'll have to wait and see,") but he was pleased to hear Bratkowski has an offseason plan for his skill players.

"(The plan) involves setting up (a regimen) in the offseaon," Bratkowski said. "Studying film,

**

Continued from Homepage

** making notes, looking at fronts, identifying blitzes. At the same time, we're presenting to the quarterbacks what we are going to try and accomplish. So. . .not only are we going to study the defense, we're studying what we want to get done and have it structured out so it gets to a certain point in minicamp and beyond."

Smith is in the middle of moving up the coast to Irvine, Calif., to work with players such as Bengals receivers Damon Griffin and Danny Farmer and quarterback Scott Covington.

"Now I'm not too sure," Smith said. "

"Maybe I'll have to shut it down and get back to Cincinnati. Whatever the guy wants, I'll be there. I'll do what he wants and learn the new scheme.

"What it all boils down to is who is taking that first snap (at training camp)," Smith said. "He just has to say when and I'll be back there."

Warrick is on the same page.

"You don't even have to ask me," Warrick said. "I'll be back."

Bratkowki, 45, a Dennis Erickson disciple who coordinated two national championships with him at the University of Miami, said he'll call plays from the press box. That's so he won't get "wrapped up," in the emotion of the sidelines, and so he can stay, "a step away and a step ahead."

Every position on offense and defense, "is up for grabs," according to LeBeau. But Bratkowski has heard good scouting reports on Smith.

"Every coach I interviewed and I interviewed a lot said they thought Akili was going to be a tremendous player," LeBeau said. "A lot of times when a high pick doesn't do well in his first (two) seasons, some guys will say, 'I didn't like him when he came out.' But they don't say that about Akili and that's encouraging."

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