8-25-03, 6:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Willie Anderson knows the Bengals haven't given the Paul Brown Stadium crowd many reasons to get loud. But he's calling on the fans to join the players in ending the 12-year spin cycle when the regular-season opens Sept. 7 at PBS against Denver.
Anderson, the right tackle, is the dean of the roster with 110 games in stripes as he heads into his eighth and what he hopes is a break-through season. His home record since being drafted in 1996? 23-33. He knows what it means. His first two years in the league the Bengals were 12-4 at home.
"Our stadium isn't loud. They're waiting for something bad to happen. A lot of it may be our fault because we haven't given them much to cheer about in the past," Anderson said Monday. "They're trying to break out of that 12-year rut just like we're trying to break out of that 12-year rut.
"We're trying to fight to get out of that and we need them to fight it, too," Anderson said, "and not come to the games just to say, 'You guys (stink). If you really want us to come out of this stuff, let's hear you and cheer us on. We need a loud stadium to give the offense and defense an advantage."
The Bengals returned to PBS Monday for their first full-scale workout since breaking training camp last Thursday, and Saturday night's 23-15 loss to the Titans before 41,335. Anderson thinks it's OK for the fans to let loose because head coach Marvin Lewis is steering things the right way, but his new, stingy defense could use some help. No matter what happens in Friday's pre-season finale in Indianapolis, or what you thought of the loss to the Titans, Anderson hopes the fans make a statement of their own Sept. 7 in backing the new regime.
"Life on the road for an offensive lineman is supposed to be hell," Anderson said. "(Bengals defensive end) Justin (Smith), could get five, six, seven sacks for the season (off crowd noise) if he had a loud crowd with Justin's first step. . .Instead, he has to work for every sack he gets. He'd get a lot of easy sacks like Jevon Kearse (Tennessee), Jason Taylor (Miami), Mike McCrary when he was in Baltimore. Peter Boulware (Baltimore). Our stadium is quiet. When we get in the red zone, we're having trouble hearing. It's backward. We need it to get loud, especially for the opener."
If he paid $60 to go to a game, Anderson says there's no way he wouldn't "act like a damn fool," and get his money's worth. He wishes the entire stadium would sound like the fans gathered above the Bengals' tunnel into the locker room.
"They're the craziest, wildest group we've got," Anderson said. "That's the kind of energy we need. Our defense needs that because Justin Smith could go to the Pro Bowl. Derrick Thomas was a great pass rusher, but you couldn't hear anything. Nothing."
Anderson has always felt the home-field advantage means something on the chalk board.
"I'm jealous as hell if Jonathan Ogden comes in here and he can hear," Anderson said of the Ravens left tackle. "It's even now. It shouldn't be even. When we go on the road to Indy (in the RCA Dome), we've already been practicing for crowd noise for two weeks because we know it's a problem." **
COACH'S TAKE:** As far as special teams coach Darrin Simmons is concerned, the Bengals can't go wrong if their punter is incumbent Nick Harris or challenger Travis Dorsch. But when it comes to whom has the advantage heading into Friday's pre-season finale in Indianapolis, he says, "I think I'm going to keep this poker face."
Simmons knows what he's looking at in practices and games: The third-year Harris' polish vs. the second-year Dorsch's potential. Dorsch has sailed two of 50 yards-plus with the wind. In his only punt that wasn't in the car wash of Giants Stadium, Harris hit it 44 yards against the wind with the excellent hang time of 4.8 seconds. Simmons says Friday isn't a make-or-break, winner-take-all. It's simply part of a competition that began in April, heightened when camp opened July 27, and ends against the Colts. It's been complicated because the offense has had to punt just three times in the
past two games. Both have five punts and in order to even it up, the Bengals gave Dorsch the last two punts, which ended up tipping the field for 58 and 52 yards.
"That's just the circumstance. You never know," Simmons said. "Even though he was with the wind, Travis still had to kick them clean and he did. No question that Travis has performed well in the games. We haven't had a lot of chances in games, and practice is part of the evaluation, anyway."
Observers think Harris probably carried the day in practice at camp, but Simmons said that's just one of the factors the team is considering.
"Both guys are going to have good careers," Simmons said. "Nick has the most experience. Polish if you want to use the term. But Travis has demonstrated he can punt."
Simmons said nothing should be read into the fact that Dorsch has yet to hold in a game. He said kicker Neil Rackers got into a groove early in camp with Harris and they've stayed with the duo, but no decision has been made yet if Dorsch is going to hold against the Colts. Although Dorsch has the sense a decision has already been made and it's not him, Simmons says it's not over.
"If Travis makes it, he's the holder," Simmons said. "He's done it every day in practice and we simulate practice like it's a game. It hasn't been expressed to Travis (a decision has been made). This is still a competition."
COMINGS AND GOINGS: The Bengals cut seven players Monday morning while claiming Arizona wide receiver Marquise Walker on waivers. Leading the cuts is the semi-surprise of offensive lineman Alex Sulfsted, a Mariemont High School grad who played at Miami of Ohio. Sulfsted, 25, had impressed Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis while both were in Washington last season, and he played a variety of spots at guard and tackle once he had been claimed off waivers by the Redskins on the first day of training camp. He played a significant amount of time at left tackle in Saturday night's loss to Tennessee.
Also cut Monday were defensive tackle Ron Smith, like Sulfsted, a second-year player. First-year players Kwazeon Leverette, a wide receiver from Syracuse, and Tito Rodriguez, a middle linebacker from Central Florida, also got cut. Rodriguez led Barcelona in tackles this past spring during his stint in NFL Europe, but hurt his knee in training camp and required arthroscopic surgery.
Three rookie free agents, receiver Chesley Borders of North Carolina, quarterback Tommy Jones of Indiana, and cornerback Maurice Tucker of South Florida, also were waived.
The 6-2, 219-pound Walker is a second-year player who was a record-setting receiver at the University of Michigan. He was Tampa Bay's third-round selection in the 2002 Draft, but did not play last season with a thumb injury. He was acquired by Arizona on June 13 in a trade for running back Thomas Jones. He played in Arizona's first two pre-season games with one catch for nine yards, and was waived before Arizona's game last Friday.
Walker set records at Michigan for career catches (176), catches in a season (86) and receiving yards in a season (1,143).
The Bengals must reduce by one to 66 players by 4 p.m. Tuesday. That's when the NFL's roster limit hits 65 players, but the Bengals have one player (linebacker Dwayne Levels) who does not count because he played this past spring in NFL Europe.