04-23-2004-UNKNOWN

4-23-04, 5:20 p.m.

BY GEOF HOBSON

Marvin Lewis hasn't let on much about this 2004 draft. But we know this.

With seven picks in the first 117 selections, the Bengals are staring at a watershed weekend. These are the 24 hours that can put the Bengals over the 8-8 hump. This should be their NFL Films draft with the sound bites and film clips documenting Lewis' Turnaround Draft and the Super Bowl Bowl building blocks.

We also know they could pick anyone at No. 24, depending what happens ahead of them. It could be Washington wide receiver Reggie Williams as much as Ohio State cornerback Chris Gamble as much as the running back Jones boys, Greg and Kevin.

You want to make the pick? Scouts Inc., has the Bengals taking USC cornerback Will Poole. The Sporting News has them taking Auburn outside linebacker Karlos Dansby. Sports Illustrated has them taking Michigan running back Chris Perry.

We still think there is going to be a guy there that no one dreamed would be there and the pick will make itself, kind of like Eric Steinbach at the top of last year's second round. (And what if cornerback Dunta Robinson slips past 10 for some inexplicable reason, would the Bengals give a second-rounder to move?)

So the first round is harder to call than Kerry-Bush. But maybe the safest thing you can say about the second round is they can get a linebacker and defensive tackle at No. 46 and No. 56 who upgrades Lewis' bid for speed and strength at the point of attack.

Now, that would mean they got their cornerback in the first round, and a hot wide receiver (LSU's Devery Henderson?) didn't fall into their laps at No. 49. Lewis has been adamant about recycling linebackers, and with backers Adrian Ross and Dwayne Levels rehabbing injuries that might not get them back on the field until training camp, they could easily go with a linebacker in the second round. They haven't taken one on the first day since they took two in the first round and three in the first three rounds in 1998.

The beauty picking so close together in round two, Jones says, is the Bengals can pick one player at 49 while pretty much knowing who you can get less than an hour later.

And there are the fast, smart, explosive backers out there that Lewis covets on the outside and the Bengals' coaches and personnel staff got a long look at many of those Lewisbackers at the Senior Bowl. But, like the defensive tackles, they're going to start disappearing in the second round, and what is going to be there at No. 80 in the third?

When it comes to backers, Lewis wants nothing to do with slow ones. Note the first one he ever picked last year in 225-pound special teams demon Khalid Abdullah.

For the South, Auburn's 6-2, 240-pound Dontarrious Thomas ran into everyone's notebook with a 4.6-second 40-yard dash and Georgia Tech's 235-pound Daryl Smith showed similar speed in Mobile, where some thought he was the South's best defensive player during practice. Thomas could probably play the middle, and Smith is an outside guy.

The South also had Florida State's Michael Boulware and Lewis may have some sentiments there because brother Peter was the end/backer sack ace on his great Baltimore defenses. Michael may be small at 227 pounds, but he's a Lewisbacker in that he's fast and smart, and like Thomas and Smith he's ticketed for the second round.

The Bengals coached some nice prospects for the North in Mobile in Nebraska's Demorrio Williams and Oklahoma's Teddy Lehman that look to rate in the second and possibly third.

People were worried about Lehman's weight, but he's sticking at 240 pounds and here's a guy who was voted the best linebacker and defensive player in the nation, runs a 4.5-second 40, and leaves it all out on the field.

"All the kid does is make plays," says Jones of a guy that could probably play both outside spots.

People were also worried about Williams' weight. He once weighed 207 pounds, but he showed up at Mobile 230 and still had the speed that could make him a valuable special teamer while possibly being groomed for the weak-side spot.

They also coached some solid inside people in Notre Dame's Courtney Watson and Purdue's Niko Koutouvides, and saw some in the South in Southern Mississippi's Rod Davis and Georgia Tech's Keyaron Fox. But the outside guys, the Lewisbackers, are going much earlier than the inside guys.

If they get that first-round cornerback, look out for the run to defense to keep going. If they take the backer at 49, can they get a D-tackle at No. 56? Maybe, but they're going to go fast. People like the Oregon tandem of Igor Olshansky-Junior Siavii, Florida State's Darnell Dockett, and Maryland's Randy Starks could anywhere from late first round to late second. Even the impressive but inconsistent 330-pound Donnell Washington of Clemson has been seen in at least one mock's first round.

One guy they could take at No. 24 is Marcus Tubbs of Texas, but knowing Lewis, he probably didn't like the fact he had to check out his rep that he took some plays off.

Solid second-rounders look to be Hawaii's Isaac Sopoaga, Washington's Terry "Tank," Johnson, and maybe Oregon State's Dwan Edwards. The coaches had Sopoaga (6-2, 320) and Edwards (6-2, 310) in Mobile and liked their size and athleticism, and Lewis got a chance to look at the Hawaii guys again when he went to Poole's workout at USC.

One guy they might be able to get in the third round is Ohio State's 310-pound Tim Anderson. If they aren't going to re-sign Glen Steele, here is his clone, a true, blue-collar, give-it-all Big 10 guy who has a good feel for the play and could fit into a rotation.

Clemson's Washington has the NFL body that may be hard to pass by even though some think he'd go in the first round if he stayed for his senior year. Starks may be the biggest enigma on the draft board next to Poole. Some teams love him and others can't remember him making any plays.

Of course, Lewis won't say how his team comes down on any player.

But one thing is for sure. On Sunday night, the national pundits that gave Lewis "As ," for his first draft last year will be grading a little more stricter with three extra picks in rounds two through four.

The Bengals could break out a quarterback as early as the fourth round. When Jon Kitna signed a two-year extension earlier this week, it showed how much the Bengals value 2004.

ESPN.com reported Friday that the Bengals ripped up Kitna's $3.3 million salary in '04, and gave him the same amount of money with a $2.3 million signing bonus and a $1 million salary. They tacked on another year to pro-rate the $2.3 million, knocking down his cap figure from $4.3 million to $3.2 million.

But in 2005, the Bengals are scheduled to give Kitna $3 million in salary and a $1 million roster bonus payable in March. Unless they re-do the deal again, it's hard to see Kitna staying at that number.

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