Sunday, October 24, 1999

Colts have Bengals in a corner

Manning will attack rookies

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For once, the Bengals would like to get on ESPN tonight because they made a big play. Not because they are running behind one as NFL Films' most reliable straight men.

        Rookie quarterback Akili Smith, looking quite comfortable working out of the shotgun on third down, looks to get more snaps out of the formation on different downs as the Bengals seek their first pass of more than 40 yards this year against the Colts.

        Two days after Smith wondered aloud if his teammates are studying enough at home, he emerged from Spinney Field headquarters Friday about 90 minutes after most of the Bengals had left.

        Smith went into overtime with his film study of red zone, passing situations, the Colts' defense and blitzes on third down, and some five-receiver cuts as the Bengals try to score 20 points for the first time since the opener.

        The Bengals have been highly impressed with Smith's work on third down in his two starts, when he is 10-for-18 passing for 128 yards and a touchdown.

        It may help that Colts first-year defensive coordinator Vic Fangio spent four seasons as Dom Capers' coordinator in Carolina, meaning Smith will see some zone blitzes that the Steelers showed him in keeping the Bengals out of the end zone last week. But the Colts' defense isn't exactly a carbon copy of Pittsburgh because Indy plays a four-man line.

        “If I can apply the mistakes I made last week, to this week, we should be O.K.,” Smith said. “I firmly believe if I go through my progressions and the offensive line holds up, we'll be fine.”

        What is nearly a carbon copy is the Colts' offensive personnel compared to the Rams' unit that just 21 days ago strafed the Bengals for 399 yards on six passes of 20 yards or more. And that has the Bengal concerned as left cornerback Roosevelt Blackmon makes just his second NFL start and 5-foot-10 rookie corner Rodney Heath takes on 6-foot Marvin Harrison in the slot on third down.

        Bengals secondary coach Ray Horton said last week that Harrison is the Colts' version of Isaac Bruce for St. Louis and speedy 5-8 rookie free agent Terrence Wilkins reminds him of the Rams' Az-Zahir Hakim, who scored four touchdowns for St. Louis against Cincinnati that included a punt return.

        And Wilkins returns punts.

        Receivers E.G. Green and Jerome Pathon are hobbled with knee injuries, giving Wilkins his second start, but are expected to play.

        “I don't know if you can stop them,” Horton said.“It's like the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan. Win the game and let someone else beat you. The Rams are more explosive from 80 yards away, but the Colts are explosive 40 yards and in. It will be a test for our guys for how far they've come since the Rams' game. We played horrible. Hopefully they've learned.”

        They learned enough to vow that they won't give the Indy receivers cushion. Cornerback Artrell Hawkins, who struggled last week on Cinergy Field's wet turf wearing new shoes he bought for rain, pledged not to give the depth he gave the Steelers.

        “(Last week) isn't the way I play and I won't play like that this weekend,” Hawkins said. “They take chances with the ball. They do have a tendency to turn it over (11 giveaways), so we have to counteract by knocking down balls. Intercepting balls. We have to challenge them all day long.”

        Heath, who played against Harrison once in college, said, “We're going to be up in their faces all game. They're going to look at our inexperience and go long. I don't think we'll see many crossing routes.”

        Heath has one of the Bengals' two miserly interceptions all season, but there might be a chance to get some today because Colts quarterback Peyton Manning refuses to take a sack. He gets rid of the ball in a hurry, a major reason he's been sacked just twice.

        Heath said the Bengals have tried to simulate the deep routes in practice. Blackmon knows that Harrison and his receivers like to run the “double move,” which is a short route they suddenly break into a long pattern past tight coverage.

        “That's what I mean by having patience,” Blackmon said. “You have to be patient on a move like that.”

        Smith is impatient for another win, but he believes this was a big week in establishing himself as a leader with what will forever be known as Akili's Take Home Quiz.

        “I think the guys know where I'm coming from,” Smith said. “Bottom line, with winning comes the respect.”


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