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Three's Not a Crowd

Quarterback Akili Smith had an interesting chat with coach Bruce Coslet on Tuesday morning about Coslet's days with the Jets and the use of three wide-receiver sets. It's a subject picking up speed around Spinney Field lately, with the drafting of Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans and the emergence of a healthy Craig Yeast.

Coslet told Smith about his packages with Rob Moore, Al Toon, Chris Burkett and Terance Mathis, and how they would often send out more than two receivers on plays other than third down. Last year with Darnay Scott, Carl Pickens and Willie Jackson, the Bengals usually used three wideouts only on third down. But Coslet knows he has changed the character of his receiving corps in one fell swoop, becoming lean and fast rather than big and physical.

"We have more available to us now to use that package more," Coslet said. "But you have to be careful. Two of those guys (Warrick and Dugans) are rookies and one (Yeast) is a second-year guy, so you don't want to overload them from a learning standpoint."

Note that you have read nearly 200 words about Bengal receivers, and this is just the second mention of Pickens. Not much is being said about him, now that the wait is on to see if the Bengals trade or release the disgruntled receiver before mini-camp. It may happen after mini-camp, scheduled April 28-May 1. But people around the NFL are waiting for the other turf shoe to drop.

Until then, the talk is about how for the first time since the giddy days, the Bengals are fast, faster and fastest at receiver.

"We can line up with four guys who run under 4.5," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "It's as fast as we've been in some time."

The Bengals have informally talked about taking advantage of this Field of Beams, a group that already has Scott, regarded by some as the fastest player in the league when the ball is in the air. Even before Dugans was drafted in the third round Saturday, one Bengals' assistant had jotted down the close comparison in age and size of Scott, Warrick and Yeast to the St. Louis Rams' group of Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Az Hakim.

"They were successful, and they didn't power the ball down the field like the Green Bay Packers," Brown said. "They were playing touch football."

The 5-7, 170-pound Yeast, who never really ran at full speed since his high ankle sprain during the first days of 1999 training camp, became the SEC's all-time leading receiver while running out of three- and four-wide sets at Kentucky. He likes to hear the buzz.

"It opens up the field," Yeast said. "Even though I caught most of the balls, the guys on the other side took a little pressure off me."

That's what the Bengals like about all this speed. Pickens became one of the finest possession receivers in the game, even though he never had track quickness. But now with this relay team, the Bengals can line up another speedster next to Scott and another one opposite him, and then wait for one of them to separate behind a defensive back.

Ever since Eddie Brown retired in the early '90s, the Bengals have been unable to consistently put two speed receivers on the field at the same time. Pickens, David Dunn, and Jackson have complemented Scott's speed only with size and strength. Separation from defensive backs has been at a premium.

But people like Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of college/pro personnel who has been with the club since '92, say it's the fastest group of receivers he's seen. Some segments of the media got on Coslet for not spreading the field more last season. Yet, when he's had the speed, he has spread it, not only with the Jets in the early '90s, but with the late '80s Bengals of Eddie Brown, Tim McGee and Cris Collinsworth.

"If you can run the ball with the conventional two wides and two backs, then substitute with three wides and four wides, you're going to cause matchup problems for the defense out of all those different looks," said Steve Mooshagian, Bengals wide receivers coach. "That will help Akili also .

"We weren't as productive as we would have liked to have been in three wides (last year). Personnel dictates we'd be much better off in three receivers with the personnel we have now, versus the personnel we had last year."

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