BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
There is no help to be found at fullback. Jim Lippincott has looked. The Cincinnati Bengals director of pro - college personnel has scoured the depth charts, studied the films and concluded that Brian Milne is irreplaceable.
"I looked at the fullbacks on the (NFL) rosters and tried to do a guesstimate of who might be available," he said. "I'm not sure there's an answer. We know we're not going to get any help from the waiver wire or trades. We're all looking forward to the day when Milne gets back here and gets healthy."
Until the bulging disc in Milne's back permits him to block again, the Bengals must narrow the scope of their offense and eliminate some of their most productive plays. They must depend more heavily on Corey Dillon and Ki-Jana Carter blocking for each other -- which presumes Dillon will block at all -- and redraw plays that require lead blocking at the point of attack.
There are plenty of guys in pro football who can run to daylight, but there are only so many running backs who can provide it. Brian Milne gained only 32 yards from scrimmage last season, but he did a lot of the heavy lifting in Dillon's surge to stardom. "In our offense, a fullback is a blue-collar worker," said running backs coach Jim Anderson.
"But it's not just about blocking. You have to put yourself in the right spot to do the job. You can block a guy and if you don't take the right angle, you block him into the hole. He (Milne) puts himself in position to do the job before he does it."
If the Bengals running game seems to be stagnating, the root cause could be the missing Milne, the mustachioed battering ram whose standard headgear of late is a backward ballcap. He is a 254-pound fullback with the mindset of a plow. Corey Dillon, by comparison, is a ballerina.
"For our offense, that (fullback) is a pivotal position," said Bengals President Mike Brown.
The Bengals gained only 75 yards rushing in 25 attempts against the New York Giants in their exhibition opener. Milne missed most of the game. Forward progress was more easily made Monday night against Indianapolis -- the Bengals gained 93 yards on 23 carries in their 30-27 loss -- but it was not immediately clear whether this was attributable to better blocking or inferior tackling.
"You need a guy who has the mindest that, "I am here to block,' " Lippincott said. "A couple of guys on our team, if you asked them to do it on a consistent basis, they would tell you to jump in a lake."
Ki-Jana or Ty?
On their first series from scrimmage, the Bengals put Ty Douthard, the small but willing LaSalle High School product, in the I formation between Neil O'Donnell and Corey Dillon. This combination produced 33 yards in five carries, and the Bengals' first touchdown. Douthard, listed at 214 pounds, looked overmatched at the goal line, but Dillon compensated by going wide when the middle didn't move.
On their second possession, Bengals coach Bruce Coslet employed the "Jet" backfield of Dillon and Carter with mixed results, then switched to a single-setback formation (with Dillon) and a split backs look (with Dillon and Douthard). The Bengals scored a second touchdown on this drive.
This could mean that Milne will be missed, but not mourned. Or it might mean that the Colts' defense remains among the NFL's most accommodating. Or both. Or it might mean nothing.
It is usually dangerous to make lasting judgments on the basis of exhibition games, but the Bengals have no illusions about their depth at fullback.
"You need a guy who has the mindest that, "I am here to block,' " Lippincott said. "A couple of guys on our team, if you asked them to do it on a consistent basis, they would tell you to jump in a lake." Lippincott said Ki-Jana Carter was not guilty on this score, but he was not so charitable about Dillon. The Bengals expect to run about one-third of their offense with these two backs in the ballgame.
"Will Dillon block for Carter?" Lippincott was asked.
Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at firstname.lastname@example.org.