Rookie defensive end Michael Johnson turned heads at this weekend's rookie minicamp. (AP photos)
Updated: 5:30 p.m.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis wrapped up the rookie camp Sunday enthused about the young receivers, a couple of free-agent defenders, and third-round pick Michael Johnson's first attempt at playing both defensive end and SAM linebacker.
He cited one downer, an injury suffered by sixth-rounder Morgan Trent on Saturday. But Lewis expects the Michigan cornerback to be ready for the start of training camp after surgery to put in a screw to repair a small fracture in his foot.
Lewis also said he expects free-agent running back Marlon Lucky of Nebraska to return to the field in the next couple of weeks after he missed four of the five practices with what appeared to be a hamstring problem.
After Sunday's practice the Bengals signed three tryout players to the roster: Ball State tight end Darius Hill, Central State defensive tackle Pernell Phillips, and Florida long snapper James Smith.
Out of the free-agent class, Lewis singled out Illinois State safety Tom Nelson and Grand Valley State linebacker Dan Skuta.
With the voluntary camps starting May 19, Lewis expects all the draft picks and most of the free agents to be eligibile to participate.
A couple of the veterans have already logged five practices. Two of last year's draft picks, wide receiver Jerome Simpson and tight end Matt Sherry, were on the field observing, but Simpson said that the meetings were just as valuable.
"Any time you get to be around when coaches are installing again it's a good opportunity to listen," Lewis said. "Maybe you hear one thing when they're installing a play or route or whatever it is that you didn't hear the last time it was installed and it's a key coaching point."
GOOD RECEPTION: Two receivers off last year's roster, Mario Urrutia and Maurice Purify, were able to work in the rookie camp but they got some competition from a class of free-agent wideouts that offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski says is as good as any he's seen since his first season here in '01.
Utah's Freddie Brown has to be included in that mix even though he was the last player the Bengals drafted at No. 252 in the seventh round after catching 77 balls for 900 yards last year.
OK, start with the comparisons. He's 6-4, 213, he's from California (La Verne), played at a junior college (Citrus), is smart, a good route runner, and has good hands. Plus, Brown was wearing T.J. Houshmandzadeh's No. 84.
It was eight years ago the Bengals took Houshmandzadeh with the 204th pick in the seventh round.
"I thought he was earlier. T.J.? Really? I'll have to look that one up," Brown said. "He's done some big things. Now he's in Seattle and it might be a good situation for him. I wish him the best. I suppose (we have similar styles). He might not be a blazer. I know I'm not. I have these intangibles that can work to my advantage."
Like brains. Brown had a 3.3 grade point average in getting a degree in human development and family studies before his senior season ("So I could just focus on ball," he said) and the coaches were able to line him up in all three spots this weekend.
"He's very, very intelligent like T.J. was," Bratkowski said. "He's picking it up extremely fast. That was a positive. Quan Cosby is also intelligent about the game and I thought he looked good."
Cosby, out of Texas, David Richmond of San Jose State, and Greg Orton of Purdue make up the rookie receiver class, along with Brown. Bratkowski said they may be battling for one or two roster spots, depending how special teams work out. Cosby has the leg up there and caught punts this camp with another free agent, the safety Nelson.
With the Bengals already lining up with Chad Ochocinco, Laveranues Coles, Andre Caldwell, Simpson and Chris Henry, it would seem to come down to one spot available. Veteran punt returner Antonio Chatman also has a battle on his hands.
Brown isn't counting; he's just trying to catch the ball.
"The receiver group is a good group; I'm really pleased with them," Lewis said. "(Brown) is extremely sharp. He was able to learn all three positions this weekend and do a really good job catching the football. He's a big guy who'll be able to block and things. He's a good prospect."
STANDOUTS: The 6-2, 251-pound Skuta and the 5-11, 200-pound Nelson drew raves from Lewis. It looks like Skuta may be able to learn all three spots because he played up, down, and all-around in college. And for the first time in his 16 years in the NFL, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer coached a fellow Illinois State player this weekend in Nelson.
"I don’t think he liked it too much," said Zimmer, who started at quarterback but moved to linebacker for the Redbirds in the mid '70s. "Every time he made a mistake, I told him he was a disgrace to my alma mater."
"But he's a good kid," Zimmer said, no longer joshing. "He moves well, he can return punts, and he's got a decent concept of where to be."
Lewis also liked the flashes of speed Lucky showed before he pulled up at the end of the first practice.
"They weren't out of place. They have some growth and development and that's what you're looking for in a college free agent class," Lewis said. "Guys that have some upside through athleticism. ... If they can't stick on the 53-man roster they have a great opportunity to be a practice squad player throughout the year."
SCARY MOMENTS: Zimmer admitted to be stunned Saturday night when he heard about the tornado-like winds that ripped through the Cowboys indoor facility during their rookie camp.
"I was thinking last night I've probably been in that place a thousand times," he said. "I haven’t talked to anybody down there yet but I'm just glad no one got killed."
Todd Archer of The Dallas Morning News, who covered the Bengals for The Cincinnati Post in the late '90s, is one of the guys Zimmer knows from his 13 seasons in Dallas. On Sunday, Archer found himself thanking another Cincinnati guy in University of Cincinnati rookie cornerback DeAngelo Smith.
Smith, along with rookie Texas Tech defensive end Brandon Williams, pulled what appeared to be part of a door frame off Archer during a collapse that injured a dozen people.
"My lower body was free, but I couldn't move my upper body. I think it was the door frame," said Archer via phone Sunday. "We were on the field watching practice and then when the lights went out, we headed to the door. I got pinned, but I could see cleats out from underneath."
Nick Eatman of the club's Web site struggled to get the wreckage off Archer, but Archer later discovered that Williams had pushed Eatman out of the way in order to get it off him. Archer would blog that Eatman told him it was like trying to lift a car. With the door raised inches, Archer was able to turn on his back and crawl out.
Talk about cooperating with the media.
"I haven't seen those guys yet," Archer said. "But I sent word out to thank them."
PROUD MOMENT: Former Bengal Mike Martin's revival of the football program at Cincinnati Public Schools' Taft High School had another milestone Sunday when the Bengals signed a player off his second team in Phillips, a 6-0, 311-pounder.
Phillips impressed with his strength while part of a defensive line that had a nice camp. Besides Johnson, another tackle, seventh-rounder Clinton McDonald (6-2, 285) out of Memphis, had a very active weekend.
"Great news; it's very exciting," Martin said. "I told him before he went to camp that he had to figure out a way to stand out in a positive way."
Power will do it. And it's the power of what kids like Phillips did Sunday with his help that made Martin rethink his decision to resign the job late last season and come back.
"He transferred from Hughes because he heard what I was doing over here and I knew he had some ability," Martin said of that second season in '03. "In one game he had 24 tackles."
In order to get his grades up, Martin hooked up Phillips with a junior college, the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill., but when the coach left for Central State and wanted to take Phillips with him, Martin advised him to go even though he'd have to sit a year.
"That's great for him to be able to get a pro contract," Martin said.
MORE MIKE: Not since Carson Palmer arrived via the first pick in 2003 has a rookie heard so many rave notices the first weekend in May.
Maybe Michael Johnson, the Georgia Tech defensive end, didn't get here until the third round, but he certainly didn't disappoint when he came in and adjusted as well as can be hoped in playing both end and linebacker. Combine that with brains and desire and, well, the coaches can't help themselves as they discuss the 6-7 prodigy.
"He's shown a lot of flexibility to come out here and learn two positions," Lewis said. "I've really been pleased with his ability to learn, his ability to take the fine points of coaching on the practice field. I was very impressed with Mike.
"He has incredible athletic ability. The opportunity for him to help us at different spots will be there. I think also contributing on special teams. He's very, very fast, big, strong, (has) the ability to learn. That's a huge positive."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Lewis liked what he saw of the two fullbacks, seventh-rounder Fui Vakapuna of BYU and free agent Chris Pressley of Wisconsin ("They both have great opportunity"), as well as sixth-round running back Bernard Scott.
"My man B. Scott, I think he really came in and showed well," Lewis said. "I think he was getting himself worked into shape. I think this was a lot of football for him this weekend and with (Lucky) going down he got a lot of time, a lot of repetition.
"The biggest thing for him is the ability to run and catch and do those is there. The adjustment he needs to make is to block linebackers and learn protection and those things."
Before Friday, Scott was best known for five arrests and four colleges. Four of the arrests have been dismissed and one about to be expunged, but he didn't dodge the character issue this weekend and took on all comers. He also showed he can turn on the jets getting to the outside.
"I knew some teams would run from me," admitted Scott, but he says he's grown up and is hanging with a better crowd and making better decisions because he's thinking before reacting.
He had one tattoo above his heart that was interesting because of the dates, 1933-1998.
"My grandmother. My parents raised me but she was the one everyone looked up to," he said.
» Long snapper Brad St. Louis, a seventh round pick in 2000, is the dean of the Bengals with 139 games. He'll have some competition, at least early on, when Florida's Smith survived his weekend tryout. After timing Smith's snaps from the ground to the punter this weekend, the coaches felt he was legit enough to take a longer look.
"He's a good athlete. Not many long snappers run 4.6," said special teams coach Darrin Simmons of Smith's 40-yard dash time. "But he's never had to block anyobdy. He just snapped it and took off. Now he's going to have to protect."