Taking away the mystery

12-12-03, 10:30 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals haven't played the 49ers in four years and a week, but they don't exactly arrive from the West Coast shrouded in mystery and mystique.

Long before they became the best sub .500 team in the NFL (a No. 8 offense with a No. 9 defense that has the second best turnover differential in the league), Greg Seamon has been writing about them in his little black book.

Seamon is the Bengals' man Friday on Sunday. He is the version of the plumber and the process server. He never sees the full affects of his work. He is part paparazzi, part gossip columnist. He turns a snapshot into a big picture from the outside looking in.

He can tell you if the Ravens sub their defensive personnel with 22 seconds left in a TV timeout or 33 seconds. He can tell you if the Seattle kicker is about to kick it deep down the middle by just the way he walks. He can tell you why the talk-show barbs are tearing paint off the wall in Arizona.

Seamon is the Bengals' advance scout and that means information.

"I try to get something from everywhere and anywhere," Seamon said this week in his strange world that is currently suspended between San Francisco and St. Louis. "It's just not watching what's on the field. Just going to the stadium and listening to the people close to the team, you're getting the benefit of other people's week-long research."

While the Bengals use his notes against Jeff Garcia, Terrell Owens, and Andre Carter, and the rest of the 49ers Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, Seamon is going to be sitting a couple of hundred miles away in St. Louis jotting down what ever he can find about "The Greatest Show on Turf," in time for the Bengals Dec. 21 game against the Rams.

It is these back-to-back non-conference games in the heart of the playoff race that a NFL scout advance lives for. They can take a rare rival and make them as familiar as a division foe and hopefully come up with a nugget that can help shove his team into the postseason.

In this first season with an advance scout, the Bengals' advance reviews are strong. The players

like the attention. The coaches like the thoroughness. And you can't argue with the results.

"He does a good job giving us the feel of that team and where their mindset is at that point in the season," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.

Seamon has assured Bratkowski, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, and special teams coach Darrin Simmons that every snap that team has taken up to when the Bengals play them has been watched. The assistants have time to go back on their computer to study four games, but Seamon goes back all the way to watch every game and the Bengals are confident that not many teams like them have the ability to pull up an opponent's blitz from Week 2 going into Week 14.

The idea is you might be able to scout players on tape, but not teams. There is too much outside the camera frame.

"On the sidelines, you can see the energy and interaction with the players and coaches," Seamon said. "You can see at what point they sub their players, so hopefully you can help your play callers with the pace of their calls. And you can't see if a team goes no-huddle on the frame.

"On special teams, you can usually tell if a guy is going to kick it long, short, right, or left, often times by their set up and you don't see that on tape," Seamon said. "If they go back a certain number of steps and over in relationship to the ball, that can tip where the ball is going. Kickers are like golfers. They're always going to do the exact same thing on their setup."

And you can't see this on tape. During one game, Seamon noticed a high snap on an extra point. The long snapper then spent the next quarter firing about 50 snaps to anybody who would catch them, from equipment guys to quarterbacks. He was still erratic enough that he drilled a team doctor in the side of the head.

Now Seamon could write, "flustered," in the notebook.

Seamon, 48, doesn't have a background in personnel. But his 25-year coaching career is making this particular job interesting because of his weekly sit down with the coaching staffs (Monday night with the offense, Tuesday morning with the defense) to go over the foe. Seamon served as the offensive coordinator at the University of Cincinnati for four seasons in the late 1990s before going to Miami of Ohio in the same capacity for two years.

Then, in 2002, he went to work for former Bengals head coach Bruce Coslet in Dallas as the tight ends/offensive quality control coach for the Cowboys. Seamon is being paid in part by the Cowboys this season, and the Bengals are going to decide after the season if they'll keep the position.

"I should have enough knowledge on Monday and Tuesday that I can give them a description of what they're about to see, and tips of things to look for," Seamon said. "Maybe by how the end is split, or something like that, and then I can draw it up on the board and I explain what I see. It's a good thing I can talk about personnel on their level."

But it's not all Xs and Os. Seamon correctly called the laissez faire attitude out in Arizona, warning the Bengals not to be drawn into the scrimmage-like atmosphere of 20,000 fans. It didn't work, but Seamon's report was so detailed about the tone and other matters that one assistant coach would have recommended he get a game ball if they had won.

Seamon arrives two hours before a game, armed with a laptop, binoculars, a tape recorder, and a Walkman. In order to get the players in the proper places on special teams, he first sets the field talking into his taper recorder because it happens so swiftly, then he transcribes it. He always makes sure he listens to the team's flagship radio station from the start of the pre-game all the way to the last post-game interview.

"Players are pretty emotional right after a game and they'll tell you what they're thinking," he said.

From listening to the Niners' game last week, he discovered that tackle Derrick Deese hasn't allowed a sack in 30 straight games. Not a big deal, but big enough that he was able to go to defensive line coach Jay Hayes and give his players something concrete.

"I had written that Deese was doing well, but now you get something more, and maybe that fires up a player in some way."

Seamon's position in the press box may be his biggest asset. It's not hard for him to hear the club's beat reporters spewing all the secrets.

"The writers are great," Seamon said. "They're gossipy and opinionated and are plugged in. I try to get back to that buffet line and pick up whatever I can hear."

Beware where you'll find your friendly advance scout next.

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