Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Q&A with Mark Curnutte

Readers enjoy win, but . . .

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ask Mark
        The mood among a sampling of 40 Bengals fans who wrote this week is one of tempered optimism about the team's playoff chances. Amazing what a 2-0 start can do.

        But mixed with fans' new hope are worries about kicker Neil Rackers, who missed all three field-goal attempts against the Ravens, and concerns about the secondary.

        Question, from Phil: How many more chances will Rackers get? He has been consistently awful. They got him for his leg, but what good is it if he can't kick it straight?

        Answer: Rackers doesn't appear to be going anywhere soon, based on comments by coach Dick LeBeau. He said he has confidence in Rackers and will show him film of the opener, when Rackers was 3-of-3 on field goals and four of his six kickoffs were touchbacks.

        Even as he struggled against Baltimore, Rackers put three of his four kickoffs into the end zone. He's one reason opponents' drives start from an average of the 24.2-yard line after kickoffs, fourth-lowest in the AFC.

        If the Bengals continue to win and move into playoff contention, Rackers will have to do better than all-or-nothing to keep his job.


        Q, from Jon: Where are Richie Cunningham and Doug Pelfrey? How long will the Bengals tolerate this poor field-goal kicking? This should not be swept under the rug because they won.

        A: I don't think LeBeau and special teams coach Al Roberts are ignoring Rackers' performance Sunday. Cunningham, cut here at the end of training camp, has not signed with another team. And Pelfrey, more than a year after losing his job to Rackers, is still living in Northern Kentucky, working out and hoping for another NFL shot.


        Q, from Jerome: When will Justin Smith become the full-time starter? And how important is the Bengals' win over the Ravens?

        A: Smith probably won't start this week because he's still learning the defense after his holdout. And the impressive play of ends Vaughn Booker, Reinard Wilson and Bernard Whittington gives the Bengals the luxury of not having to hurry Smith. The defensive line has played well in the first two games.

        Beating Baltimore is big. First, it's a win. Most important, though, the team gains confidence by slugging it out with the defending Super Bowl champs. Players now believe what LeBeau has told them for a year - they have as much talent as any team in the league.


        Q, from Michael: We as Bengal fans are tired of not being able to watch (home) games on local TV. Whose rule is it that the games have to be sold out by 1:00 on Thursday? Is there nothing that can be done about it?

        A: The blackout policy is a league rule. The NFL can give teams the option of lifting the blackout, as was the case this past weekend in wake of the terrorist attacks. About the only chance you have of seeing home games on TV is for the team to keep winning and to sell out Paul Brown Stadium.

        Q, from Robert: You picked the Ravens to win. Now you can go and hide your head. I don't believe you know anything about football. I know a few of my friends that have sent you e-mails, and you ignore them. What's up with that? We will take Paul Daugherty over you any day. So get lost!

        A: Yes, I did pick the Ravens. So did about every other football writer in the country. That's what makes the Bengals' win a major upset. Congratulations to them.

        As for the e-mails, I reply immediately to each one that is time-sensitive - such as, “Will Vaughn Booker play this weekend?” - but some of the big-picture questions are repetitive, and I'll only use one.

        I greatly appreciate anyone who takes the time to read the newspaper and spends even more time to write to me. And I, too, am a Paul Daugherty fan.


        Q, from Gary: Who is the backup to Corey Dillon? Will the Bengals make an effort to (sign) a free-agent cornerback next year to solidify half of the field? What is the curfew for home games? Can they trade Akili Smith?

        A: Brandon Bennett is Dillon's backup. The Bengals might go after a veteran cornerback in free agency, now that it appears they have turned their defensive line into a team strength. I'd also look for them to draft an offensive tackle and begin grooming him.

        The Bengals have no apparent curfew the Saturday night before home games. Unlike some teams who put their players in a hotel the night before a home game, LeBeau treats his players like men and trusts them to show up ready to play Sunday.

        It's unlikely the Bengals will trade Smith. He still has the potential to develop into a winning NFL quarterback, and the club won't release him because they can't afford to absorb the remainder of his $10.8 million signing bonus in one salary-cap hit.


        Q, from Norm: With all the patriotic fervor in the country today, how many of the Bengals have volunteered for the armed forces?

        A: Booker (Taft High School, UC) served in the U.S. Army in Hawaii from 1988-91.

        Q, from Gail: Given the fact the tight ends have been MIA the last few years under the tutelage of (Bruce) Coslet and (Ken) Anderson, what can we expect to see out of this position under Bob Bratkowski's offensive scheme?

        A: Bratkowski's spread offense is very flexible and adjusts to the defense. If tight ends didn't figure in, the Bengals wouldn't have drafted Sean Brewer in the third round. He's out with a groin injury, but LeBeau and Bratkowski liked his ability to catch the ball over the middle and go deep. That says the Bengals will throw to their tight ends. Tony McGee and Marco Battaglia each have two receptions.

        Mark Curnutte covers the Bengals for the Enquirer. Contact him here.


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