Bungling Bengals

Sad, but true. The Cincinnati Bengals are a bad football team. I know it, you know it, and the American people know it. During the 1990s, they lost more games than any other team in the National Football League. They have not gone to the playoffs since Ickey Woods was doing the "Ickey Shuffle" and "Welcome to the Jungle" was a hit song. They draft the wrong guys, they do not spend money, they hire the wrong coaches, and they have some of the worst luck on the field.

The new stadium is nice though, real nice. All of that could change this year, because according to Bengals President Mike Brown, "The future is now!" And you know what, he could be right.

The last two teams to have won the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots, came out of nowhere to make their runs. The formula they used was simple. They played great defense, they used a strong running game to control the clock, they had a solid quarterback who did not make mistakes, they played an easy schedule, and they had excellent special teams.

The Bengals are one of the teams some people think can make the same sort of leap... but when you look at the numbers, it doesn't really add up.

Going to the scorecard, the Bengals are coming up, let's see, 3 for 5.

They have a young, aggressive, and good defense led by linebacker Takeo Spikes, one of the top running backs in the NFL in Corey Dillon, and a schedule that has them playing 11 out of 16 games against teams that did not make the playoffs.

This all means nothing, if they cannot improve at quarterback and kicker. The Bengals should at least make the playoffs. The question is, can they make enough improvements in the areas where they are weak to actually make a difference this year?

Reading stats, watching highlights, and following camps on the Internet is one thing, but nothing beats watching a team live and in person.

That's why I ventured up I-75 to Georgetown, KY to watch Bengals training camp at Georgetown College.

If you've never been, make it a point to go. Rawlings Stadium, and the athletic complexes, are amazing.

The night practice I attended had an autograph session before and fireworks after. Admission is free, and the stadium shop had some great deals on souvenirs, although if I was Akili Smith, I might be worried that my T-shirts were the only ones marked down to half price.

The crowd was a robust 3,500 and the license plates in the parking lot indicated that despite Tim Couch playing for the Cleveland Browns, the Bengals remain popular with most of the state. The thing to watch were the quarterbacks and the kickers-two positions that the Bengals have had trouble with for awhile.

The quarterbacks came first. Jon Kitna is the incumbent starter, but he finished last season with a 61.1 QB rating, one of the lowest in the AFC, and only had 12 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. Akili Smith, the former top draft pick, has had a very inconsistent career, and does not figure to factor into the season, despite his strong showing in their first few exhibition games. Gus Frerotte is a free agent signee from the Denver Broncos, who had some good years in Washington D.C., and can only have improved during his time in Denver with noted offensive mastermind, (his word, not mine), Mike Shanahan. When watching these guys in the 7-on-7 drills, and the other passing drills, it's impossible not to notice how weak Kitna's arm appears to be when compared to the other two. It's hard to believe he has made a living in the NFL considering he seems to throw as hard as me. Smith has a gun, but does not seem to have a real chance to start. Frerotte also has a strong arm, and considering the fact they spent a lot of money to bring him in, will probably get the nod. The passing offense was horrible last year, and that shouldn't happen with such a good running game. The receivers have talent, they just need someone who can get them the ball. No matter how consistent Kitna is, if the Bengals want to do something this year, Frerotte needs to start.

Neil Rackers made only 17 out of 28 field goals last year, and that's simply pathetic. I could not understand why the Bengals kept him around, until I saw them practice. OK, physically, he can do this job, but can he do it in a game? He routinely made field goals during practice and drills, splitting the uprights with plenty of room to spare. Travis Dorsh, a kicker drafted out of Purdue, did not look nearly as good. If Rackers is a head case, Dorsh should see some action. If Rackers can kick in a game as good as he did Thursday night, the Bengals should do fine.

Will the Bengals will win the Super Bowl this year? No. Should they win enough games to make the playoffs and be a factor? Yes. They have already won their first two exhibition games against the Buffalo Bills and the Indianapolis Colts, two teams they will play during the season, and building up confidence is important when dealing with a team that loses as often as they do. The last night practice in Georgetown is Thursday August 22 and they break camp the next day, so if you want to see them, that's your last chance. By that point, they should be giving away the Akili Smith shirts for free.