Sunday, October 24, 1999

O'Donnell's success begs: Why not here?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For a team that has changed its starting quarterback eight times in the past 28 games for a variety of reasons, the Bengals wonder why others have flourished after leaving.

        When Paul Justin signed with the Rams just before the season started, he told the St. Louis media he had progressed during every point in his career until he came to Cincinnati. Justin was part of the Monday Massacre that claimed Neil O'Donnell last April when the Bengals cut the veteran quarterbacks after drafting Akili Smith.

        “That's what happened, but I don't have any reasons,” Justin said last week.

        Bengals President Mike Brown is wondering. After Neil O'Donnell mastered the dump pass in Cincinnati last year, how is he averaging more than seven yards an attempt in leading Tennessee to a 5-1 record?

        “He seems to be able to make the big play week after week,” Brown said. “The difference is he succeeded there and didn't here. Sure, it makes us pause and think about why.”

        With Jeff Blake gone next year and No. 3 quarterback Scott Covington getting no snaps, the Bengals need an experienced backup for Smith next season. It looks like they missed out on a solid backup three years ago.

        In Dave Shula's last training camp in 1996, the Bengals opted to keep Kerry Joseph and cut Damon Huard in looking for a rookie No. 3 quarterback. Apparently in the effort to sign Joseph out of McNeese State, the Bengals virtually assured Joseph's people he would make the team.

        Three years later, both Huard and Joseph will play significant roles today. Huard starts for the injured Dan Marino for Miami after leading the Dolphins to a last-minute win last week in Foxboro against the Patriots. And Joseph plays safety for the Seahawks in their passing defense.

        “You can't see the future,” said Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson. “Do you think Atlanta wishes they traded Brett Favre? We liked Damon coming out of college and he's had a chance to live and work in Miami the last couple of years and get settled in. I'm glad for him because he's a good kid.”

        Huard said he's pleased with how it worked out, but at time the release hurt him: “I really only got to play in one pre-season game and when I went in on my first drive I threw a touchdown pass and that was it. I never got to play again.”

        You could make a living second-guessing many NFL teams for their quarterback moves. Rick Mirer with the Jets? Stoney Case in Baltimore? Billy Joe Whoever in New Orleans?

        Brown, the leading proponent of the franchise quarterback theory, knows there are several different ways to find a competent one. But it's not easy. He just has to look at the NFL's best quarterback this season in the Rams' unknown Kurt Warner and the dues he paid before getting a shot when Trent Green got injured.

        “Where was he for six, seven, eight years?” Brown asked.“Why could no one figure out he was good? They couldn't even figure it out in St. Louis. He wasn't their first choice. They're only playing him out of need. . .Finding the right quarterback is like finding the Holy Grail in the NFL. I read the other day there have been 20 quarterback changes this year. Some are because of injuries, but there are a lot of dissatisfied teams.”

        Huard and Warner honed their skills in NFL Europe, where Brown would like Covington to get experience during the offseason. They wanted to send last year's No. 3, Eric Kresser, but he thought it would help him more if he stayed with the team in the offseason.

        “I've always been of the belief that the only way to develop as a quarterback is to continually face situations you'll get in games,” Brown said. “If you don't, you rust. The problem with (Europe) is that there are a small number of teams and your guy isn't guaranteed playing.”

        PASSING FOR DOLLARS: The decision to start Smith in Game 5 is going to cost the Bengals some bucks next season.

        He's averaged 214 yards passing in his first two starts. If he stays at that pace, he'll finish the season with 2,756 yards and convert next year's minimum salary to $1.8 million because he passed for more than 2,500. If he hits 2,500 again next year, the salary for his third season is $4 million.

        Smith also gets a bump in salary if he ranks in the top five in the NFL's big passing categories, but that likely won't happen this year because of his late start.

        AGE-OLD DEBATE: The Bengals are the NFL's youngest team in age and experience, but look at today's matchup with the Colts. Cincinnati's total age of their offensive starters is 291 years compared with Indy's 268.

        On defense, the Colts lead, 303-278, to give the Colts a negligible 571-569 edge. Overall, both have 12 starters with four years or more experience, but the Colts have just two on offense.


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- O'Donnell's success begs: Why not here?

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