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Votes for Spikes and Neal

12-1-02, 12:45 p.m.

Jeff Blake, one of the ex-Dukes of Bengaldom, is back in town Sunday to quarterback the Ravens, and the countryside is still in awash in the same questions about changes, continuity, and scheme when he was exiled after the 1999 season.

This week's sampling of Hobson's Choice:

Jeff, The last thing any Bengals fan wanted to hear was Mike Brown say he's listening to the players and he knows the offensive consistency is something he likes. Does this mean re-upping the coaching staff because they have gotten close to a win once in awhile? Does he forget that this is the same coaching staff that had a team thought to be a playoff possibility and they have mismanaged to take them to 1-10 thus far? **Rick, Cincinnati.

It doesn't mean much right now because all indications are that Brown hasn't made up his mind yet on what he's going to do with head coach Dick LeBeau and the rest. Brown walks a fine line here. He wants to be optimistic for the players and coaches who are still grinding their way through five games, but if he's too upbeat, he's going to get skewered and sautéed in all corners of Bengaldom that fear he'll keep the status quo.

Brown's quotes about the offense left the door more than ajar for the possibility that he won't make as many drastic changes as most believe he has to make to turn around the franchise. How do you keep the same offense and not the same head coach? Brown has always felt decimating staffs is a set back rather than a step forward, which is in direct contrast to public opinion.**

Corey Dillon has said of free agent FB Lorenzo Neal in past weeks "...if he goes I'm on the same plane with him." It seems almost essential to me that Lorenzo Neal finishes his career in Cincinnati. He is an emotional leader on this Bengals team, and is a big reason for Corey Dillon's success. Do you feel the re-signing of Lorenzo Neal in the off-season is just as important, if not so than the re-signing of LB Takeo Spikes? **Drew, Louisville, KY.

DREW: The re-signing of Neal and Spikes are absolutely key and for a lot of the same reasons. They play with the emotion and passion that is so often missing on

other parts of the team. Neal can not only lead block for you, but he also brings hustle and professionalism to special teams. Spikes has been beat up this year, but he goes out there every Sunday trying to make it better and comes up with plays. When you have a player as good as Spikes play as hard as that, you've got to try and keep him for your locker room.

The Bengals don't usually like to spend more than what they think is right for fullbacks and inside linebackers, preferring to look at bigger impact positions. But look at those "impact," free agents they signed last year at quarterback (Gus Frerotte), wide receiver (Michael Westbrook), and rush end (Reinard Wilson). Frerotte started for 10 quarters, Westbrook is already gone, and Wilson has no sacks.

In Neal and Spikes, they've got guys who have produced and those are the guys you want to pay.**

Instead of Jimmy Johnson sitting in a braodcasters chair on Sundays why doesn't Mike Brown sign him on as the General Manager for the Bengals? Jimmy could hire Norv Turner away from Miami to be the new head coach. Turner's offensive system is very simular to the one we are using now. Turner has been successful in developing young quarterbacks in the past and we need someone who can do that. With Dick Juron, a likly canidate for being fired at years end, Dick could come in and be the new Defensive Coordinator. With those three men in place I believe the Bengals would be a serious contender next year for the playoffs and maybe the Super Bowl. Is this pipe dream or is there a chance this could Happen? ** Dan, Bellefontaine, OH.

DAN: For now, file it under "Dream, Pipe." There are just no signs that the Bengals are going to hire a general manager. They may change coaches and they are thinking about expanding their scouting staff, but don't look for a GM from the outside.

Turner didn't exactly draw rave reviews in Washington for his tenure as a head coach (50-60-1) and developed the knock of being a terrific coordinator who shouldn't be a head guy. Jauron is a more logical fit because he's a former Bengal and Brown wanted to hire him as a coach when he retired in the early '80s.**

What are the off-season options for the Benglas to solve the quarterback problem? **Ralph, Columbus, OH.

RALPH: There are guys like Jake Plummer and Kordell Stewart who could be had on the market at some point. And there is always the draft and the Bengals are keeping a close eye on the quarterbacks. In the last month, they've sent coaches to watch the games of top prospects. But if Kitna ends up this season close to the way he is now, he would be the option with Akili Smith at No. 2 and Joe Germaine at No. 3.**

one simple question. obviosly this year is over. can the bengals win with jon kitna at quarterback? can they build an offense around him, and win consistently in the future years? **Armchair QB, Dayton, OH.

ARMCHAIR: You have to wonder, because as well as he's played in seven starts, the Bengals have won just once and his record in Cincinnati as a starter is 7-15. But he took Seattle to the playoffs in 1999 and if you give him the same receivers, a Pro Bowl running back, and some protection, he's proven this year he'll score 22.5 points per game. That's a start. If they had solid special teams and defense with those numbers, they'd still be in the playoff hunt. And you also have to wonder what if they had stuck with Kitna and made him their No. 1 guy from Jan. 7, 2002?**

Forget about giving Akili or Joe Germaine a shot. Doesn't everyone understand that by taking Kitna out, regardless of if he has another bad game, you are going to hamper the growth of WR Chad Johnson, LT Levi Jones and TE Matt Schobel, all of which have improved a great deal. Not to say it's all Jon Kitna, but most of them credit him as helping them out. Put in another QB, you take three players down a notch. Come on, how hard is that to see? BTW: What is the forecast for the draft? I see more pressing needs at DT, DE(opposite J. Smith) and CB than at QB. Interior line may need an overhaul too. **Matt, Cincinnati, OH

MATT: Whatever they do, they don't want the No. 1 pick. It's a $15-20 million question mark as opposed to $5 or $6 million if you finish in the middle of the pack.

And which franchise has proven more than the Bengals that a first-round quarterback simply isn't the way to go? You wouldn't take a guard or center that high, but certainly in the second or third round you would have to look at those spots because of the advancing age of center Rich Braham, who just turned 32.

He's extremely tough, but they do have to look at both interiors now that defensive tackle Oliver Gibson is coming back from Achilles' surgery and defensive end Vaughn Booker could retire. Defensive line would appear to be the top priority if they stick with the let's-stick-with-Kitna theme.**

Why would people want to change anything with the Bengals. Even though they only have 1 win so far they are a whole lot better than they were last year on offense. The key for them to make the playoffs is to keep everything, and I mean everything intact. That means coaches, players, and their offensive scheme. Do you think that Mike Brown will change their coaching staff after this year? And I also would like to know if they intend on keeping Lorenzo Neal, and Takeo Spikes. They should give them the money they want, because where else are they going to fine a full back that can play like Neal, and a linebacker who can play hard like Spikes? **Michael, Columbus, OH>

Why should people want a change? No matter who the quarterback has been, or who the coach has been, they've had strong finishes in '96, '97, '99, '00 and '01 and then in the next season have been out of the race by November. A strong finish hasn't meant anything. They do intend to keep Neal and Spikes, but as mentioned before, they will have to spend more on those positions than they usually do. LeBeau needs a big finish to come back next year.**

I know this is a team sport, but it also comes donw to the actions of an individual, and most times, those actions can effect the game, much like it did last week. Why does DIck LeBeau keep TJ in as punt return when he is largely responsible for the last 2 losses?? **Mike, Forest Park, OH.

MIKE: It's clearly a move by a coach who is a former player who knows what can happen to the confidence of a player when he's buried on the bench after some devastating miscuses. LeBeau has seen enough of Houshmandzadeh's abilities (last year's 86-yard punt return in Cleveland and last week's 44-yard kick return in Pittsburgh) to believe he can make something happen and doesn't want to quash the aggressiveness that makes him good.

LeBeau certainly wasn't as tolerant with Peter Warrick. He lost the job two months ago after just one huge gaffe, the dropped punt inside the Bengals 5 in a 28-21 loss to the Colts. Now what is Warrick thinking? He had no comment when asked this week about LeBeau sticking with Houshmandzadeh.**

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