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What of '02?

10-27-02, 1 p.m.

With two weeks to stew about its club's fifth 0-6 start since 1991, Bengaldom is more interested in '03 than '02. Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau has emphasized to his players there is more than half the season left and plenty of time to salvage the season. The countryside is not so easily convinced.

A sampling of Hobson's Choice:

Will the Bengals make some fundamental changes in how they do business in the near future? If so what are those changes likely to be? It seems that there needs to be some top to bottom changes in the organization given the current state of affairs. ** Ralph, Columbus, Ohio.

RALPH: All signs point to something major, given that Bengals President Mike Brown is uncharacteristically saying nothing about the team's football operations. Every year about this time, they have said they will re-evaluate their scouting situation and they end up sticking with the same philosophy on which Paul Brown founded the franchise: The coaches who coach the players should scout the players and have a say in which players they get.

But there are indications the Bengals are mulling moving toward how many NFL teams do it, which is to draw a more

distinct line between coaching and personnel. That would mean hiring more scouts and keeping the coaches confined more to Xs and Os. That would be a fundamental change. Reasons? Probably because there is a belief internally that this isn't like 1993 and 1994 and 1998-2000, when they were young and short on talent. There is a sense that the talent acquired in the past few seasons, particularly in the form of veteran free agents, is good enough to at least contend in the AFC North.**

In an article a week or two ago, you mentioned how Mike Brown was making an effort to change things and was spending to the salary cap every year. This year, however, according to published reports, the Bengals have a $57 million dollar payroll. That's fifteen million short of the limit. What gives? **Mark, Stansberry, Ohio.

MARK: The story said he spent over the $71 million cap last year and is near the cap this year. Last year they went over by a few hundred thousand dollars when incentives to Peter Warrick and Jon Kitna kicked in. They will finish this season right against the cap when No. 1 pick Levi Jones' incentive is expected to count.

That $57 million figure sounds like actual money paid out this year in bonuses and '02 salary. That figure dosesn't take into account the pro-ration of signing bonuses, which takes them near the cap.**

Do you think the fact that defenses, when playing the Bengals, focus so much on Corey Dillon is the reason for his sub-par production, or is it the injury plagued offensive line? I'm also aware that if Cincinnati falls behind by 17 points Dillon has fallen out of the picture and they must rely on the pass. But if Corey can consistantly get 25 carries a game regardless of the defecit he can make a huge impact. **Drew, Louisville, KY.

DREW: You can point to all of the above, but the major reason has to be the anemic production of the passing game the past three seasons. It was just his luck to get a head coach early in the 2000 season who believed in smashmouth football, but it coincided with the emergence of the lowest passing rated team in the league.

In their effort to establish that much needed passing attack, it seems like, at times, they forget they can shrink the game, cut down on turnovers, and keep their defense off the field by running Dillon more and not worrying so much about the pass. But the flip side is, man can't just run to the playoffs on bread-and-butter alone.**

Love your column, and love the Bengals. Of course I want them to do better. I like Lorenzo Neal's idea of making people give to a charity if they lose. At least then something positive will come out of a loss. When will they demote Warrick? He's run bad routes, and dropped too many balls. I'm an Akili fan and wish they would give him a chance to develop by pushing Frerotte to number 3 to him some reps. You think that will happen? Go Bengals and kick some butt this week! **Linda, Cincinnati.

LINDA: Thanks for your kind note. If the season keeps going like this, expect to see Smith before Frerotte, simply because of the contract situations. The unhappy Frerotte is working on a one-year deal and Smith has two years left, plus the gnawing feeling of the organization that he deserves one more shot at the helm before making a final call on him and deciding if they need to go draft a quarterback in April.

Warrick? He's already been demoted off punt return. Houshmandzadeh, Westbrook, and Farmer have had injuries blunt their bids to get more playing time in his place. Is Warrick a 60-snap receiver in this league? Maybe not. But he has athletic skills on a par with the Steelers' Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle-El that somehow we haven't seen yet.**

You probably hate these, but I have a fantasy question for you. Do you think Chad Johnson will have another productive game this week against Tenn? Thanks. Randall, Dallas.

RANDALL: Hope this isn't too late for you, but Johnson is the go-to-guy on this team right now. He's been hurt by inconsistency, but he's also showing flashes. Johnson has the most receiving yards on the team, one of the two passing TDs, and along with Houshmandzadeh is leading the regulars with more than 12 yards per catch.

How will it be won? Offense or defense? **Joseph, Albuquerque, NM.

JOSEPH: The first win? It will come when the offense has less turnovers than the defense generates and Dillon goes for more than 100 yards on more than 22 carries.**

I want to preface my email by saying I am a huge Bengal fan who takes a lot of abuse from mockers. I am as upset as anyone to see how poorly our record is this season, especially when we had such high expectations. Now, I don't want to press the panic button or anything, but.... What Cincinnati needs is some legitimacy, some credibilty. Would it be to off-base to suggest brining in someone to give the Bengasl instant credibilty, as well as putting their stamp on the team. The Jauron rumours (we use u's in Canada) didn't make me laugh. What about Bill Parcells? He would right this ship in a hurry. Don't get me wrong, Dick LeBeau is doing a commendable job, but... Mr Brown has some good ideas, but maybe we need an outsiders perspective. The QB situation also needs to be sorted out ASAP. Draft the best available QB and stick with him. Harrington, Brees, Vick and Carr all seem to be adjusting quite well. Twelve years is a long time. We have the core of a very good team (Smith, Spikes, Simmons, Dillon, Anderson), but we just can't turn that corner and I fear the frustration will boil over and these guys may not be here for much longer. Thanks. **Dan, Ontario, Canada.

DAN:It's not out of line to suggest anything, given what has transpired. The first thing they have to do before anything else is decide who their quarterback is and stick with him. Whoever it is, Kitna, Smith, a first-rounder, make him your guy from Day One of mini camp and make sure he gets every possible snap in training camp, and nix the quarterback carousel since Jeff Blake left.**

Will Travis Dorsch get a shot at the kicking game this year? All of us here in his home town are anxious to see him play. **Mike, Bozeman, Montana.

MIKE: One of the byproducts of the 0-6 start is Neil Rackers has had just five field-goal attempts. They were hoping they would have seen more early so they could make a decision on keeping him, and cutting Dorsch, or cutting Rackers and activating Dorsch. It looks like Dorsch won't get a chance until Rackers struggles consistently, or the losing continues and they will give Dorsch a shot late in the year along with the rest of the young players.**

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