Friday, November 02, 2001

Wyche sees signs of '90

Ex-Bengals coach, now facing surgery, says team's on track

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Sam Wyche, the last coach to lead a Bengals team to the playoffs, isn't surprised it has taken the franchise 11 seasons to get back into legitimate postseason contention.

        “Every year is different. Players leave too much. Around the league, an average of eight players you'd like to keep leave your team regardless of how well you do,” Wyche said Thursday during a visit to Cincinnati. “But, clearly, (the playoff drought) lasted longer than it should have and longer than anyone else's.”

        Wyche will go from Cincinnati to Boston, where he's scheduled to have surgery Nov.6 to try to improve his vocal strength. He lost about 40 percent of his volume when surgeons, in a March 2000 operation to check if lymph nodes in his neck were cancerous, severed the nerves to his left vocal cord.

        Dr. Steven Zeitels, who operated on actress-singer Julie Andrews, will perform what Wyche calls a “Hail Mary” operation that has about a two-thirds chance of improving his voice and a one-third chance of weakening it.

        “It's not experimental, but it's a new technique,” Wyche said.

        Wyche, who was let go from his two-year stint as a pro football analyst for CBS-TV after a Sept.23 game, did the telecast of the Bengals' opening-day victory against New England.

        He follows a team that has drawn comparisons to his 1990 Bengals because of its relatively good start.

        The 2001 Bengals are 4-3 heading into their bye week. It's the best record for a Bengals team heading into November since Wyche's '90 team was 5-3. The current Bengals have the best record after seven games since Wyche's squad was 5-2.

        The '90 Bengals finished 9-7, winning the AFC Central, and won a wild-card game over Houston, 41-14, before losing a divisional playoff game at Los Angeles to the Raiders.

        Wyche sees some similarities between the '90 and 2001 teams — the strength of the offensive line blocking for an outstanding running back, leadership at quarterback, a ball-control short passing game and the personality of former Bengals tackle Tim Krumrie showing itself in the defensive line Krumrie now coaches.

        The Bengals' last playoff appearance took place in the first year of the NFL's expanded 12-team playoff format.

        Here's why Wyche says the Bengals can make the playoffs.

        • Corey Dillon and his line. “If the offensive line can give him a running start, a lot of space will open up,” Wyche said. “He reminds me of an attribute Barry Sanders had. A lot of plays the Lions ran blocked everybody else but the guy at the point of attack. That was Barry's guy to beat. I'm not saying the Bengals run any plays like that, but other teams can't prepare for that kind of player.”

        • Leadership in the huddle. Wyche had Boomer Esiason, who he says was best “field general” in the game. “Boomer got his team out of bad plays,” Wyche said. “He was calm in the huddle. (Jon) Kitna has had a calming effect on this team. He's not letting the game get blown up. He's not doing it to the extent Boomer did, which is not a knock on Kitna. It's a compliment to Boomer.”

        • Short pass offense. Wyche likens the underneath pass catching ability of Peter Warrick to the role Eddie Brown had on his late 1980s teams. The current crop of running backs are “adequate as receivers,” Wyche said.

        • Defensive line. “Tim Krumrie spearheaded our defensive line, and they do something on every snap, even though they don't get noticed unless they make the tackle or get a sack,” Wyche said. “When the linebackers get free, it has a lot to do with the defensive linemen.”

        • Linebackers. “We didn't have linebackers like they do now,” Wyche said of the starting trio of Takeo Spikes, Brian Simmons and Steve Foley. “They don't appear to ever be out of position.”

        Here are strengths the 2001 Bengals don't have that Wyche said his '90 team did.

        • Defensive backs. “Our (cornerbacks) were as good as anybody playing,” he said. “Injuries have played a role with these guys.”

        • Kicking game. “One thing we had that they don't have now is Jim Breech,” Wyche said of the franchise's all-time leading scorer.

        Overall, Wyche said he is encouraged by the 2001 team. The clubhouse chemistry appears to be good.

        “They have a fundamental, sound discipline,” he said. “They believe in the things they're being taught. Confidence develops when they see it work.”


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