Darryl Williams believes that times are changing for the Bengals.
He sees young faces around him, eager for success, which was one
of the big reasons he came back to play free safety in Cincinnati
after four seasons with the Seahawks. He wants to be a part of
Such optimism is admirable, but this is still the franchise that
lost more games in the '90s (108) than any other NFL team and won
only 18 times during Williams's first tour, from 1992 through
'95. The Bengals will move into 65,600-seat, state-of-the-art
Paul Brown Stadium this season, but in the early part of the
preseason they encountered some of their same old problems. They
squabbled with holdout running back Corey Dillon over a new
contract and released disgruntled wideout Carl Pickens. Then,
less than two weeks into training camp, the club's only proven
wide receiver, Darnay Scott, broke his left leg and was placed on
Nevertheless, Williams has not lost heart. "When something bad
happened here in the past, it was always 'Here we go again--it's
the same old Bengals,'" he says. "That's the mindset we have to
get rid of. We're going to go through some adversity, but we can
win. That's the only way you can look at it."
Williams and veteran defensive linemen Tom Barndt and Vaughn
Booker are the key additions to a defense sorely in need of help.
In 1999 the Bengals surrendered a league-high 28.8 points a game
(which was also a franchise record). Injuries to the linebacker
corps forced defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to junk the 3-4
alignment he prefers in favor of a 4-3. By the end of the season,
however, LeBeau so liked how the defense was performing in the
four-man front, particularly against the run, that he decided to
stick with the formation this year. He hopes the new set also
will energize a pass rush that had only 35 sacks last year.
August 27, 2000
To that end John Copeland, the team's best pass rusher, moves
from strongside defensive end to the weak side. Booker, who had
3 1/2 sacks in 14 games with the Packers last year, will start
at the other end. Barndt, a 300-pound run stopper who spent his
first four seasons with the Chiefs, and holdover Oliver Gibson
will start at tackle. Reinard Wilson, Cincinnati's first-round
draft choice in 1997, will see some time at end on passing
downs. If the Bengals don't get an improved pass rush, however,
they'll have to depend on a secondary that, though bolstered by
the addition of Williams, is still suspect. Cincinnati
intercepted only 12 passes last year and ranked 28th in the
league in pass defense, allowing 237.5 yards per game.
The Bengals chalked up the defense's struggles last year mostly
to inexperience. Third-year players Steve Foley, Brian Simmons
and Takeo Spikes may soon rank among the league's best sets of
linebackers, but players such as Wilson, a disappointment at
outside linebacker during his three seasons in LeBeau's
zone-blitz scheme, and third-year cornerback Artrell Hawkins
haven't progressed similarly. As coach Bruce Coslet says, "It's
time for some of our young guys to graduate to the next level."
If the defense looks shaky, the offense has the potential for
catastrophe. Dillon, who rushed for 3,459 yards in his first
three seasons and has made it clear that he wants out of
Cincinnati, didn't sign his new contract until Aug. 9--and it was
a one-year deal at that. Second-year quarterback Akili Smith, who
played in only seven games as a rookie, had been thrilled about
the prospect of working with a three-receiver set that featured
the deep speed of Scott and the shiftiness of first-round draft
pick Peter Warrick of Florida State. Then on Aug. 1, Scott, a
seventh-year player who had his first 1,000-yard receiving season
in '99, broke the tibia and the fibia in his left leg while
blocking. Smith says he heard the bones snap from 40 yards away.
"Going into this year we have a new home and a desire to get away
from all that negative stuff of the '90s," says Smith. "Then to
lose Darnay, one of our leaders, like that, it was very tough."
The Bengals' chances for improvement are further diminished by
the strength of the AFC Central. In the past two seasons,
Cincinnati is winless in a half dozen meetings against the
division's three best teams--Jacksonville, Tennessee and
Baltimore. So the road gets no easier for Coslet, who is 21-36
in three-plus seasons.
"We hope to be more competitive, and that's all the pressure I'll
put on these guys," Coslet says. "I want to compete and look good
doing it. Obviously, I want to win, but that will only come by
our not making the same mistakes that have hurt us
SEPT. 3 Open date
17 at Jacksonville
24 at Baltimore
OCT. 1 MIAMI
15 at Pittsburgh
29 at Cleveland
NOV. 5 BALTIMORE
12 at Dallas
19 at New England
DEC. 3 ARIZONA
10 at Tennessee
24 at Philadelphia
1999 Record 4-12 (5th in AFC Central)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 6(tie)/23/15; defense 16/28/25
2000 Schedule strength
NFL rank: 15 (tie)
Opponents' 1999 winning percentage: .500
Games against playoff teams: 6
PLAYER TO WATCH
Guard Mike Goff made five starts as a rookie in 1998, but the
Bengals signed free-agent veterans Matt O'Dwyer and Brian
DeMarco the next off-season. Those two became the starters, and
Goff pouted over what he perceived to be a slap in the face.
Now, after a season in which he played in 12 games and made only
one start, Goff knows what he has to do to nail down a starting
job. He worked hard on his technique and conditioning in the
off-season, and is pushing for a starting position. "I'm not
here just to be another face in the team picture," he says.
"Last year I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself. This
year I'm going to rise to the challenge."
PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1999 STATISTICS
Coach: Bruce Coslet
Fifth season with Bengals (47-74 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Akili Smith 102 153 att. 80 comp. 52.3% 805 yds.
2 TDs 6 int. 55.6 rtg.
RB Corey Dillon 38 263 att. 1,200 yds. 4.6 avg. 31 rec.
290 yds. 9.4 avg. 6 TDs
RB Nick Williams 275 10 att. 30 yds. 3.0 avg. 10 rec.
96 yds. 9.6 avg. 0 TDs
FB Clif Groce 313 8 att. 22 yds. 2.8 avg. 25 rec.
154 yds. 6.2 avg. 1 TD
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Peter Warrick (R) 48 71 rec. 934 yds. 8 TDs
WR Craig Yeast 170 3 rec. 20 yds. 0 TDs
WR Ron Dugans (R) 215 43 rec. 644 yds. 3 TDs
TE Tony McGee 242 26 rec. 344 yds. 2 TDs
K Neil Rackers (R) 252 44/44 XPs 20/26 FGs 104 pts.
PR Craig Yeast 170 10 ret. 20.9 avg. 2 TDs
KR Tremain Mack 340 51 ret. 27.1 avg. 1 TD
LT Rod Jones 6'4" 330 lbs. 16 games 15 starts
LG Matt O'Dwyer 6'5" 308 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Rich Braham 6'4" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Brian DeMarco 6'7" 323 lbs. 7 games 7 starts
RT Willie Anderson 6'5" 340 lbs. 14 games 14 starts
LE Vaughn Booker 45 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
LT Oliver Gibson 41 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
RT Tom Barndt 27 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
RE John Copeland 37 tackles 4 sacks
OLB Steve Foley 42 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
MLB Brian Simmons 115 tackles 3 sacks
OLB Takeo Spikes 106 tackles 3 sacks
CB Tom Carter 33 tackles 2 int.
SS Cory Hall 54 tackles 1 int.
FS Darryl Williams81 tackles 4 int.
CB Artrell Hawkins 66 tackles 0 int.
P Brad Costello 22 punts 33.8 avg.
 New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)
THE BOOK an opposing team's scout sizes up the Bengals
"Going with Akili Smith at quarterback is tough because they're
putting all their money on someone who is basically a rookie....
Corey Dillon is a quality running back. But he runs so hard that
he gets nicked up a lot, so you wonder how long his career will
last. There isn't much behind him, either.... The offensive line
has struggled with injuries, but the tackles are solid veterans
and the interior linemen are journeymen who have performed well.
The tight end [Tony McGee] isn't a great blocker, but he's a
productive receiver.... Defensively, Takeo Spikes and Brian
Simmons are two of their better players, but the line is still a
question.... They've drafted some small defensive ends, like
Reinard Wilson, who haven't fit their defense.... In the
secondary they pick up guys like Darryl Williams, who will play
at a Pro Bowl level for a couple years and then leave. The
Bengals just can't seem to keep those guys around. Plus, you
need a lot of talent to run their zone-blitz defense, and they
don't have that."