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Running Back Controversy Juices Bengals’ Bye Week

September 19, 1996

CINCINNATI (AP) _ It’s NFL bye week in this city of German heritage, and that probably means more people will be thinking about gemutlichkeit _ that feeling of warm cordiality and congeniality _ than about the Bengals.

Organizers expect 500,000 people at Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati, an eating and drinking festival a few blocks from Cinergy Field, where last week’s Bengals’ home opener didn’t draw 50,000.

And unless last week’s victory over winless New Orleans signals a real turnaround for the Bengals (1-2), the team faces an uphill battle in selling the seat licenses and season tickets necessary to build a new stadium.

Punter Lee Johnson said players don’t feel any extra demand to win because of stadium plans, which owner Mike Brown is negotiating with county officials.

``It’s not added pressure on us. It’s added pressure on Mike,″ Johnson said. ``It’s not added pressure on the team, unless Mike were to come in and tell us.″

The bye week also provided a week’s respite for coach Dave Shula, who is 19-48 in his fifth season and under fire from fans. Talk show callers and some local columnists said Shula should be fired if the Bengals went into the bye week 0-3.

When the Bengals finally won a game, beating the Saints 30-15, few players seemed happy.

Tight end Tony McGee let it be known the ball wasn’t being thrown his way as much as he thought it should. Garrison Hearst had five carries for minus-1 yard, then started a mini-furor by saying he didn’t see any future for him in Cincinnati.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet called that selfishness, and for a while it looked like bye week might signal the Bengals’ disintegration rather than rejuvenation.

The Cincinnati Post asked readers to vote on whether the Bengals should stick with Ki-Jana Carter, last year’s No.1 pick in the NFL draft, as their featured back or go with Hearst, the $2.1 million-a-year backup who ran for 1,070 yards last year with Arizona.

But by midweek, all signs were that the flare-up had been positive and had resulted not in animosity but a heightened sense of purpose among the players.

``We came out today and had a positive practice,″ running back and designated motivator Eric Bieniemy said Wednesday. ``You got certain people who are going to say certain things. But it might be just out of frustration. These people are team players. They want to help us become a better team.

``The only thing it does is make everybody want to work harder, it makes everybody want to play more. When you got players competing like we are in the backfield, the only thing that’s going to come out of it is good.″

Shula, as is his style, made light of any controversy.

``Let’s just say that I knew going into the season that there weren’t enough footballs for all the talent that we had a chance to put out on the field,″ Shula said.

``So I’m not surprised by the fact that the guys want the football. I respect them for that; I want them to feel that way. If they want to say something, they’re free to say something.″

McGee, who had 55 catches last season, but only five in the first three games this year, didn’t retract his remarks. He said he didn’t expect them to be published.

Hearst, acquired off waivers Aug. 21, admitted he needs to know a lot more about the Bengals offense.

``I have to learn the system. That’s the only way I’m going to get in the game,″ Hearst said. ``The only thing I can do to help myself is learn more.

``I don’t want to come in here and cause problems for anybody. I’ve signed a contract. I want to be a part of this team.″

Hearst knows the Bengals have an expensive, long-term commitment to Carter and that neither he nor Carter _ who missed all of 1995 after knee surgery _ has been effective.

``We’re in a position where we have two guys that can play, two very talented players _ potentially,″ Shula said. ``One’s got to get to know our system, and one’s got to get used to playing in the NFL.

``Neither one of them has done as good as we need to have done for us to get where we want to get, which is in the playoffs.″

So for a week, Cincinnati can turn its attention to sauerbraten, strudel, potato pancakes and beer. Fans will know in a week, when the Bengals play Denver, what the players were doing while they partied.

End Advance

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