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Bengals ready for change


It's become a late-season tradition in Cincinnati. While other teams are making a final-weeks push for the playoffs, the Bengals are talking about what has to happen in the offseason.

"If there aren't major changes, something is wrong," quarterback Akili Smith said. "This is rock bottom. This is the lowest of the low. There has to be changes. I don't know what (team president) Mike (Brown) and them have in mind, but you have to make some changes."

Those remarks may have been fitting in any of the Bengals' 11 consecutive non-winning seasons, but this year they appear to have special significance. This year, it would seem change has become a prediction.

Even Brown is forecasting it.

"We are looking at changes that people outside might not notice, but would be different for us," Brown said of his personnel department, which is the smallest in the league.

But change promises to be much farther reaching.

This Sunday, when the Jaguars play at Paul Brown Stadium, they will be facing a Bengals team that is almost certain to change its stripes during the offseason. The next time the Jaguars play their former AFC Central mate, they may not recognize them. Then, again, maybe they will.

"I don't know what it has to be because I believe players make plays and not coaches," fullback Lorenzo Neal said of the prospect of change, "but look at it. We all deserve better; the Brown family, the coaches, the players, the fans. You're losing your fan base; there's talk of boycotts and petitions. Something is wrong. I don't know what, but it's got to be fixed."

Head coach Dick LeBeau is almost certain to be the fall guy for the Bengals' failures this season. LeBeau is expected to be fired, but when that happens it's expected Brown will introduce a new infrastructure to the Bengals operation.

The Bengals have always relied on their coaching staff to do the bulk of their offseason scouting and player evaluation for the draft. And the coaches have always been the loudest voices on draft day.

That's expected to change.

"In my heart of hearts, I know we are talking about the players we should be talking about in the appropriate rounds. We know who the players are, we know where they are and who to go visit. We have the same information as everyone else in the league," Brown said.

But even though the Bengals have made some plum picks -- Willie Anderson, Corey Dillon, Takeo Spikes, Brian Simmons, Justin Smith, Levi Jones -- there have been too many draft busts for a team that has year in and year out selected at the top of the NFL draft order.

Change in Cincinnati obviously needs to begin with personnel, and it sounds as though Brown has already surveyed the landscape of those expected changes. Rumor is he will hire a general manager.

So, how far off are the Bengals from becoming a playoff contender?

There are those who believe they are closer than most believe. Cincinnati could be a great place for a new coach and GM to land. They may find themselves getting credit for a turnaround that may not be as dramatic as the Bengals' record would indicate. A turnaround may be as simple as finding a quarterback.

"The biggest thing is we haven't been in (the playoff picture) for a while now, but we continue to go out and be very competitive week after week," quarterback Jon Kitna said. "I've been on teams where guys have shut it down; especially in situations where you get down early in games. I've been on teams where guys have literally quit, and I haven't seen that here."

Until change takes place, these remain the same old Bengals.

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