Spikes not 100 percent

9-9-02, 5:30 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals are going to have to live with some things after the Opening Day disaster.

There are now going to be questions about conditioning dogging the Bengals as they prepare for next Sunday's game in Cleveland.

"Did you see them lying on the ground?" asked Chargers tight end Stephen Alexander. "They didn't know if they wanted to play or go to the sideline, every single one of them, all their front guys. The D-line and linebackers, they're on the ground, looking around. 'Nah, let's shut it down.' They were terrible."

And one of the other things is that right outside linebacker Takeo Spikes is less than 100 percent after missing all but 12 plays of the preseason with a torn pectoral muscle. He had a game-high 10 tackles (eight solos), but admitted

after the game that the shoulder doesn't feel quite right.

"It's just something I'm going to have to deal with until it gets stronger," Spikes said. "Right now it's weak and it gets weaker and weaker during the game. The longer you're out there, the more you sweat, the more water you lose, it tightens up and cramps. I have to deal with it."

But it is a tough injury for a guy who makes a living using his arms and hands to get off blocks and turn six-yard gains into two-yard gains.

"Its hard to reach out and grab and do certain things," Spikes said. "It's just another injury to play through. It's nothing spectacular."

Spikes, who has never missed a game because of injury, compared it to playing much of the 2000 season with a hip flexor/groin injury. This year, "at least I can run."

But it's the least preparation he's ever had for a season opener. After injuring his shoulder sacking Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe on the preseason's 12th play, Spikes didn't play at all in a game until Sunday. He has participated in practices for pretty much the past three weeks.

"I'll play through it," he said.

As for the conditioning question, are the Bengals out of shape? Did they get outworked by Marty Ball?

"It may seem that way, but it was a hot day," said defensive tackle Oliver Gibson after his unit was on the field for nearly 38 minutes in 90-degree temperatures. "Fatigue was a factor. I went down because I got hit in the (groin). That didn't have anything to do with the fact that we weren't playing well.

"It may seem like that, but only people who don't understand football start looking for excuses," Gibson said. "That wasn't because our morale was down. We were on the field. When your body breaks down, muscle starts to break down. They say fatigue makes cowards of us all. We weren't cowards, but we were breaking down physically. I guarantee you we'll have 98 percent of our defense up and ready to rock next week against Cleveland."

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