Bengals count on top picks being big hits
Effort was top priority in evaluation

Sunday, April 19, 1998

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Takeo Spikes is a lethal weapon disguised as a linebacker, a one-hit wonder of bone-bending brutality. If he does not make the Cincinnati Bengals better, he should at least make them louder.

"I'm trying to get the hit where they have to have the ambulance come out there and give them salt and wake him up a little bit," the Bengals' No. 1 draft choice says. "I don't really want to hurt anybody, but I just want to let them know that Spikes is for real."

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  • At the risk of endorsing violence, maybe a little danger is a knowledgeable thing. Maybe the Bengals have tried too long to play defense with civilized souls when what they needed were raving lunatics.

    The Cincinnati defense has been typified by low-key linebackers like James Francis, with lethargic linemen like Dan Wilkinson, with passive players who were more athletic than aggressive.

    Maybe that is changing.

    The Bengals' Draft Day strategy was to develop more speed on defense, a game plan followed with each of their first four selections. They chose three linebackers and a cornerback before bolstering the offensive line, and they looked hard at attitude as well as athleticism.

    "You can't coach speed," head coach Bruce Coslet said in summary, "and I'm going to quit coaching effort."

    Passion has its place in professional football, and it is a prerequisite of effective defense. You get some mean-spirited monsters to guard the goal line, and suddenly ball carriers aren't quite so eager to get there.

    "Attitude is everything on defense," said Solomon Wilcots, the Bengal safety turned broadcaster. "Offenses know when a defense is playing search and destroy. When that happens, they're not trying to get the extra yard, they're trying to live to play another play."

    Historically, the Bengals have struck fear in opponents only when they have had the ball. Even when they have drafted for defense, they have tended to pick people who were a little too polite, a little too polished, a little too soft. They leaned toward guys who looked great at the scouting combine, but not so good in the games.

    The selection of Takeo Spikes may signal a shift in the Bengal franchise's philosophy, as did the recent departure of the uninspired Wilkinson. If speed was the top priority Saturday at Spinney Field, the ulterior motive was motivation.

    It was also an important factor behind Reinard Wilson's first-round selection last spring. If that choice has yet to prove prescient, Wilson is one player who does not need to be prodded. He is accustomed to the rigors of farming, renowned for wrestling alligators, and considered by his coaches a "hard-try guy."

    Takeo Spikes is cut from the same coarse cloth. His Japanese name translates as "Great Warrior." His playing style suggests a certain kamikaze mentality.

    "I'm a sideline-to-sideline player," he said Saturday. Last fall, in Auburn's game against Florida, Spikes was credited with 18 tackles, 14 of them unassisted. The numbers were impressive, but no more than the noise.

    "When he hits you, you stay hit," said Mark Duffner, the Bengals linebacker coach. "When you watch him, you say "Wow' in terms of his hitting."

    Big hits set an intimidating tone for a defense, and the Bengals chose several players capable of creating concussions. Brian Simmons, the Bengals' other first-round linebacker, made 369 tackles in his career at North Carolina. Steve Foley, their first selection in the third round, led the nation with 18 1/2 quarterback sacks last season.

    Equally impressive is that each time Foley performed a drill for Duffner, he would want to do it again.

    "I don't know if I'm intimidating," Foley said. "I don't say a lot on the field. But I want the guy I'm playing to think, "This guy is coming hard every down.' If that would be intimidating, then yes I am."

    If not intimidating, it is certainly refreshing.

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