Sunday, August 31, 2003

Lewis hints cuts likely to run deep

Sloppy play has coach fuming, sends him to waiver wire

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Bengals, like all NFL teams, must get down to 53 players on their roster by 4 p.m. today.

The Bengals will have to waive or terminate the contracts of 13 of the 66 players currently on the roster.

But today's transactions aren't likely to finish the turnover. Coach Marvin Lewis hinted at a major makeover after Friday night's preseason finale loss at Indianapolis.

Beginning tonight, the Bengals will have first crack at players waived by the NFL's 31 other teams.

"We're going to evaluate the waiver wire," Lewis said.

Translation: Monday could be just as eventful as today in terms of locker-room comings and goings.

Lewis is not a patient man. He has a five-year contract with the Bengals, but there is no five-year plan.

"We have to make sure we get the right 53 guys at this point and go from there," he said in Indianapolis. "The 53 you start out with don't necessarily have to be the 53 you end up with."

The 21-20 loss to the Colts was far from a preseason tuneup. Special teams gaffes and turnovers by the Bengals offense suggest that Lewis is still rebuilding the engine.

"We'll have to have a perpetually moving kind of roster," Lewis said. "We can't accept mediocrity. We fall back into those habits. We have to nip it in the bud and go forward."

The bad habit that hasn't yet gone away is allowing return touchdowns by opponents. All three of Indianapolis' touchdowns came with the Bengals defense on the bench. The Colts scored on a 95-yard return of the opening kickoff, a 93-yard interception return in the second half and a 70-yard run after a fumble recovery.

The Bengals yielded 10 touchdowns in four preseason games. Five were against the offense and special teams. Rookie quarterback Carson Palmer had three interceptions returned for touchdowns, two by the Jets and the one by the Colts.

That sounds like the 2002 regular season, when nine touchdowns were scored against the Bengals special teams and offense.

Compounding the kickoff return yielded by the special teams, Bengals holders Nick Harris and Travis Dorsch dropped three snaps on field goals. Another hold by Dorsch was off center, and a false-start penalty on offensive lineman Willie Anderson took a Neil Rackers field goal off the scoreboard.

"You can't beat good football teams leaving points on the table like that," Lewis said. "But the snaps and the holds, it's totally unacceptable. It's not professional football. We've got to do better than that."

There's a chance neither Harris nor Dorsch will be around at the end of the day Monday.

Asked if it is too late in the preseason to get a new holder, Lewis said: "It's not too late to ever do anything. We'll see what the best options are for us."

Danny Farmer, who is battling for a job as a wide receiver, has held. Farmer missed Friday night's game with a bruised knee. He might have lost the fifth receiver spot to rookie Lawrence Hamilton, whose 121 receiving yards included a 68-yard touchdown.

Backup quarterback Shane Matthews also held in a game last season for the Redskins.

Lewis declined to comment on specific players - good or bad - after the Indianapolis game.

Another area of concern for Lewis is turnovers. The Bengals committed three more Friday, upping their preseason total to 11. The Bengals had two takeaways, the first since the preseason opener. Still, they ended the preseason at minus-7 in turnover ratio.

"You can't make mistakes," Lewis said. "We still make mistakes that help us not win the game, whether it's keeping us from scoring offensively, or the drops we've had with field goals. We can't do that."

Denver Broncos at Bengals

What: Season opener for both teams.

When: Sunday, Sept. 7.

Where: Paul Brown Stadium.

Kickoff: 1 p.m.


Radio: WCKY-AM (1360); WOFX-FM (92.5).

Preseason records: Bengals 1-3, Broncos 3-1.

Last year's records: Bengals 2-14, Broncos 9-7.



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