Sunday, July 22, 2001

Bengals' receiving talent widespread

Team hopes competition leads to better pass attack

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Darnay Scott runs on the field where he broke his leg last year.
(Tony Jones photos)
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        GEORGETOWN, Ky. — Bengals wide receivers will be more experienced this season. And faster. And bigger. But how much better they are won't be known until September.

        The Bengals concentrated in the offseason on improving their league-worst pass offense. The quarterback might be the same — Akili Smith or Scott Mitchell could start ahead of newcomer Jon Kitna — but the receiving corps has had a major facelift.

        Two of the this year's top three receivers weren't with the team last year; seven-year veteran Darnay Scott had a broken leg, and Chad Johnson was in college. The other, Peter Warrick, played out of position all season because of Scott's injury.

        For the second year in a row, the Bengals drafted starting wide receivers from the same high-powered college offense. In 2000, it was Warrick and Ron Dugans from Florida State. This year, it's Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh from Oregon State.

        Undersized regulars from the past two seasons' pass offenses — which finished 31st and 23rd in the league — are on the bubble. Craig Yeast, who's 5 feet 7 inches, and 5-9 Damon Griffin could be victims of change.

Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans laugh it up.
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        Second-year players Dugans and Danny Farmer, who started a combined seven games, will have to win jobs. Free agent Chad Plummer, who's 6-3 and a former University of Cincinnati quarterback, has impressed coaches with his work ethic and receiving moves. Coaches are intrigued by Houshmandzadeh, who can return kicks and is regarded as a seventh-round steal.

        Aside from quarterback, wide receiver will feature the most intense competition in camp. And coach Dick LeBeau likes what he has seen.

        “Our receiving corps is gifted and deeper by far than it was at any time last year, just out in the first skill session,” LeBeau said. “That will help our quarterback.”

        LeBeau demoted former offensive coordinator Ken Anderson to quarterbacks coach and hired a former wide receivers coach, Bob Bratkowski, as coordinator. Bratkowski implemented a new offense that features more multiple-receiver formations.

        “You have to have people who can run. We have that. You have to have people with great quickness. We have that,” Bratkowski said. “We have some experience there with a healthy Darnay in with that group.

        “If we keep five guys, we're going to let two really good football players go, at least, maybe three. And then once we get to five, there's going to be competition to get on the field. That makes the passing game better.”

Rookie Chad Johnson.
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        The locks to make the team are Scott, Warrick and Johnson. Dugans, Farmer, Yeast and Houshmandzadeh would figure to fill the final two or three spots, but don't count out Plummer.

        Scott is the key. He was coming off his best season, 1,022 yards in 1999, and was being counted on to replace Carl Pickens as the Bengals' No.1 receiver before he broke his leg in last year's training camp. Scott's injury crippled the pass offense and took away the Bengals' one legitimate deep threat.

        Scott declared himself healthy upon arriving in Georgetown Friday and again after Saturday afternoon's practice. He doesn't care if he gets just two balls a game — he says they'll be big gainers.

        “We've got that monster in the backfield, Corey (Dillon), and they just want to give him the ball all the time,” Scott said. “I'm back now. You've got to throw it to me a few times. A couple of bombs. That's easy.”

        Scott's knowledge of the game will help his fellow receivers as much as his speed will help the offense.

        “Darnay understands the tempo of the game and shows the guys,” Mitchell said. “Peter's going to start out the year, just from being mentally comfortable, 100 percent ahead of where he was. Then you add in Dugans, Danny Farmer and (Johnson), it's a good group of guys. You have a lot of depth.”

        LeBeau envisions Warrick open in the middle of the field when Scott and Johnson go deep.

        “Peter pretty much had to be our lead dog out there at the wide receiver position,” LeBeau said of last season.

        “That won't be the case this year. All receivers benefit from having a supporting cast.”


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