Tuesday, December 10, 2002

LeBeau's confidence unwavering

Despite record, Bengals coach planning for '03

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bengals coach Dick LeBeau got out his goggles and a beaker Sunday and tried mixing a rookie punter's NFL debut with one of the league's best special teams units.

The subsequent concoction blew up in LeBeau's face. Steve Smith returned two of Travis Dorsch's low punts for touchdowns in the Carolina Panthers' 52-31 victory over the Bengals.

"The coach retired as a prognosticator," said LeBeau, who guaranteed a victory - the team's only one - at Houston. "And I'm retiring as an experimenter. I didn't like the results of that one."

The proposed experiment to play Akili Smith or Joe Germaine at quarterback appears to be off as well. LeBeau said Jon Kitna would start Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Coaches also seem ready to stick with Kitna, who has 14 touchdown passes and just four interceptions in his past seven games, for the final two games against New Orleans and at Buffalo.

"He played very well in this football game (at Carolina)," LeBeau said of Kitna.

Kitna, who has started nine games, has thrown for 2,489 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season. His 86.9 passer rating is eighth among the AFC's 17 rated quarterbacks.

LeBeau, like other coaches around the league, is trying to strike a balance between taking looks at young players - such as Dorsch - and winning. The latter does win out.

"I don't think this team is nearly as far away as the season would indicate it is. I think it's important that we understand that, and try to get a positive start back to where we need to get," LeBeau said Monday. "Even though the score was lopsided (Sunday), it wasn't that type of game. Our games have been very competitive, but we haven't won the games. That's why I keep harping on winning. It's very important that we establish the fact that we can do that. I think that will always be important whenever you go on to the field."

The Bengals have lost five in a row after opening the season with seven consecutive losses and beating Houston. LeBeau's team has won just three times in the last 22 games.

"I think that it's important for this group of men to show success," LeBeau said. "I think they've done a good job of battling through adversity. Our offense has done a good job the last two months of improving."

Will LeBeau be around to coach the 2003 Bengals?

"I'm going to coach this team like I'm going to be here forever," he said. "All I'm thinking about is how we can be better now and in the future. I'm happy with the way our offense has played. No one has really shut down our offense. They have been productive consistently, and I know that our defense played very well last year with many of the same people we have now. I don't look at this as a hopeless situation.

"Nothing amounts to a hill of beans except for your record. I can be as defensive as I want to be, but you can't defend the facts, and the fact is our record is very poor. That's very disappointing to all of us. We have the poorest record, but I don't believe we're the poorest team."

E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com

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