BY GEOFF HOBSON- ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.
Quarterback Akili Smith is watching his high school and college games, trying to remember playing football is all about having fun. Right tackle Willie Anderson only had to go back to last year to know how not to get ready for an NFL season.
The trio hopes all the preparation and mind games yields some strand of hope when the most untested and young Bengals' offense in years opens the preseason Friday (Channel 12, 7:30 p.m. in Cincinnati, Channel 2 in Dayton, Channel 10 in Columbus) Friday here against Buffalo's always elite guard of a defense.
"When we play our two quarters or whatever as the first offense, we've got to score points," Anderson said. "We haven't done that in the past. And everybody says, "Don't worry, we'll get it on when the season starts," but we didn't. We're not good enough to do that. That's what Super Bowl teams and playoff teams do. We've got to get Peter Warrick into the end zone so he knows what it feels like to score a touchdown in the NFL."
Warrick, college footbal's most dominating offensive player last year, is the focal point of a neophyte offense that lines up 28 career NFL starts in the three backfield spots and the two wideouts. But the veterans want wins now after watching last season's 0-4 preseason set the table for a 4-12 season.
"If we're going to be the kind of team we want to be," said defensive captain Takeo Spikes, "we have to take everything serious. Whatever you do in the preseason, it leaks over into the regular season. What it does is it shows it's (winning) is not a light switch. You can't turn it on and off."
Or, as Anderson said, "The preseason has to be like our regular-season games."
Anderson and Spikes saluted the coaches in changing the mindset of the week's preparation. Instead of spending maybe just a day or two on a preseason foe, the Bengals geared for the Bills all week and the players are walking around with a much thicker game plan. In fact, the Bengals were running against the Bills' defense on Tuesday when wide receiver Darnay Scott broke his leg.
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"We're more prepared than last year," Anderson said. "I think we as an organization decided that we're not that good, that we have to prepare like it's a game that means something. We're so young, we're looking to be more disciplined."
The kids will get a shot at the NFL's defense, even if five starters and Bruce Smith have moved on. With a quarterback with four NFL starts in Smith, a starting running back in Brandon Bennett with one NFL start and the playmaker in Warrick with no NFL starts, who knows what may transpire.
"It could be a jail break or we could just relax and play and have fun," Smith sid. "I've been watching old high school and college film just to relax myself. Get myself into that mode that it's still football if you just go out and relax."
Smith wants to be more relaxed than he was in Saturday's srimmage, when he was jittery and indecisive. He'll probably all of the first half and he says his goals against the the Bills are to hit 60 to 65 percent of his passes, have good pocket presence, make flawless checks at the line and "just have fun."
Bennett makes his first start since he set a Bengals record with 119 yards receiving by a back against the Steelers in 1998. He's anxious to see how his reconstructed knee holds up and it appears he'll get plenty of chances as the Bengals try to find a successor to disgruntled Pro Bowler Corey Dillon.
"He'll play the first quarter, but after that we'll see," Coslet said. "We can't play them all the same amount of time, so who ever doesn't play a lot this week wil play next week."
Sedrick Shaw figures to play after Bennett and fullback Nick Williams will also probably get a shot at running back after he's done playing fullback in the second quarter. Fourth-round pick Curis Keaton probably gets his shot late in the game.