Saturday, September 25, 1999

Can Bengals say 'see ya' to stumbling Septembers?


Annual slow starts illustrate futility

BY TOM GROESCHEN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Free safety Greg Myers said the Bengals' 0-2 start has lent the annual sense of urgency to September. Since 1991, the franchise is 7-27 in September games.

        “We've got to pick it up,” Myers said. “We're 0-2, and you can't go 1-7 and expect to make the playoffs. We've got some games we can win in the near future, so we have to turn it around now.”

        The first such winnable game is Sunday against a fellow 0-2, the Carolina Panthers. But Carolina is favored by a touchdown, a line which didn't change even with Jeff Blake declared the starting quarterback Friday.

        Myers said last year's 3-13 season was the longest of his first three Bengal years, the team having gone 8-8 and 7-9 before that.

        “Last year was the most frustrating year of my career,” he said. “We definitely don't want to go through that again.”

        HE'S BACK (AGAIN): Carl Pickens will make his first 1999 start Sunday at wide receiver, coach Bruce Coslet said Friday. Pickens had been listed to start last week, but Willie Jackson started instead.

        Pickens, who didn't sign with the Bengals until three days before the season opener, has shown some rust. He has five catches for 31 yards this season, only a 6.2-yard average. But the Bengals hope to feature him more as he gets into better shape.

        LET'S GET GOING: The Bengals have trailed at halftime in both games this year and have been outscored 54-28.

        That continues the pattern from last year, when the Bengals trailed at halftime in 13 of 16 games. Their record when trailing at halftime last year: 1-12.

        NEW LINE: The Bengals' long-suffering offensive line has been blamed for much of the team's problems this decade, but the '99 group could be its best in years.

        So says Paul Alexander, the fifth-year offensive line coach. The team was second in the NFL in Week One with 201 rushing yards, and now stands ninth after last week's 47-yard game. Also, the Bengals have allowed only four sacks.

        “As disappointed as I am that we're 0-2, the majority of the time we've looked better than we ever have in recent years,” Alexander said. “There's times in there when we look as good as any line there is, and then there's that couple of times they catch us a little bit.”

        Alexander said the '99 line is the most physically gifted since he joined the Bengals staff. The problem is there are three new starters since last year, and a fourth man (Rich Braham) starting at a new position.

        Willie Anderson, the right tackle and the team's best offensive lineman, is the only man starting in the same spot as last year. The other starters are left tackle Rod Jones (replaced Kevin Sargent, cut), left guard Matt O'Dwyer (replaced Braham, who moved to center), center Braham (replaced the departed Darrick Brilz), and right guard Brian DeMarco (replaced Ken Blackman, now injured).

        Anderson said it takes at least a year to get comfortable with a new group. “You're still learning what the guy next to you does,” he said. “The more you change guys, the more you're gonna struggle. It's kind of like starting all over with a new quarterback, almost.” Newcomer Jay Leeuwenberg is pushing O'Dwyer, but Alexander said radical changes are not imminent. The changes this year were because of injuries and/or perceived upgrades through free agency.

        “I've never subscribed to the musical-chairs offensive line,” Alexander said. “I know this, we've come a long way from our first preseason game.”

        GO BEARCATS: Second-year cornerback Artrell Hawkins, a University of Cincinnati product, walked tall in the clubhouse this week after UC upset Wisconsin last Saturday. Hawkins was razzed the week before, when UC lost to Division I-AA Troy State.

        Hawkins attended the Wisconsin game and said he yelled himself nearly hoarse. He didn't help tear down the goalposts but was in the postgame mob at Nippert Stadium, and said he helped sing the school fight song while standing with coach Rick Minter.

        “I felt like I was out there playing,” he said. “It was great.”

        Today, Hawkins' Bearcats face even longer odds when they visit Ohio State.

        “They'll be ranked if they beat Ohio State,” Hawkins said. “They'd have to be No.25, wouldn't they?”

        THIS AND THAT: Sunday will be the first time the Bengals have played Carolina, which joined the NFL in 1995. The Bengals have played the other 30 NFL clubs.

        • Carolina coach George Seifert was 3-0 vs. the Bengals when he was San Francisco's coach, including the 49ers' 28-21 victory in 1996 that got Dave Shula fired the next day.

       



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- Can Bengals say 'see ya' to stumbling Septembers?
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