Friday, October 25, 2002

Why can't Bengals get this QB thing right?

By Joe Kay
The Associated Press

Kurt Warner takes over and leads the lowly Rams to the Super Bowl. Tom Brady does the same thing with the Patriots, filling in after Drew Bledsoe goes down. Other NFL teams can change quarterbacks and win. Some of them even win championships. Why can't the Cincinnati Bengals do the same?

Short answer: They change all too often and for all the wrong reasons.

"The quarterback position is the one position that you can't play musical chairs with," quarterback Akili Smith said. "We've been doing that, and there's been no success."

The Bengals treat the quarterback position like a slot machine. Insert money, pull lever, see what pops up. If they don't hit the jackpot, they just give it another try.

Cincinnati (0-6) already has used three starters this season: Gus Frerotte, Smith and Jon Kitna, who currently has the job. Smith is on deck in case Kitna continues to struggle, and Joe Germaine, signed to the practice squad last week, is probably going to get a chance somewhere down the line.

The quarterback-du-jour philosophy comes from the top. While all of his passers argue for patience, owner Mike Brown prefers to try someone else as soon as something bad happens, hoping to finally hit the jackpot.

"If it isn't working, I guess one option is to keep on hoping that it will work," Brown said. "Another option is to try something else and see if it will work. You can argue both sides of that.

"I tend to the opinion that you ought to try and see if something else can't get it going."

The argument for the patient approach is that it works. Kitna pointed out that other teams have won with backups because of the circumstances; they're not changing just to change.

"When you look at other situations, you have to realize that a quarterback going down with an injury is different than simply making a quarterback change," Kitna said. "When a quarterback goes down, a change is made out of necessity, and guys just kind of rally around.

"When you start making quarterback changes, guys don't know. Hopefully, we've seen the end of that."

No, they haven't. The Bengals have changed passers so often it's become a team tradition. They've had 12 in the last 12 years; it's no coincidence that they've had no winnings seasons during that span.

Brown's impatience is only half the problem. The Bengals also do a poor job of preparing their quarterbacks to succeed. Instead, they throw them in unready, leading to another calamity.

They've done it with first-round draft picks like Smith and David Klingler, and they've done it with their long list of journeymen. The more they fail, the more the impatience grows.

In 1998, the Bengals signed Neil O'Donnell at the start of training camp, put him in charge of an offense that he was still learning, then ditched him after 11 games.

They've essentially done the same thing to O'Donnell's successors, rushing them up the depth chart and then dropping them back to the bottom if things don't work out right away.

The instability at such an important position leaves the locker room without a leader.

"It's like the Neil O'Donnell thing," offensive lineman Willie Anderson said. "He came in after minicamp. He had to learn a new offense. He was in a position where you have leaders, but he couldn't lead us."

Undeterred, Brown will plod along the same route once again next year, taking yet another quarterback in the first round while expecting instant results.

"There is no assurance for first-round picks at any position, but that's especially true with quarterbacks," Brown said. "Quarterbacks pop up in the strangest ways."

Especially in Cincinnati.

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