12-27-02, 6:10 a.m.


It's a story of brotherly shove when the Bengals tight end and the Bills right defensive end line up against each other Sunday in Buffalo.

"I've got the best hands in the family and I don't mind if you tell him," joked Aaron Schobel with a laugh Thursday from Buffalo.

Matt Schobel, the Bengals rookie tight end, certainly knows they've been catching balls longer than his. Aaron was probably Matt's favorite target back in high school at Columbus, Texas (population 4,000) when he was the quarterback and Aaron was a tight end athletic enough to split out and also play wide receiver. So Matt is looking forward to bringing his tapes home and breaking them down with Aaron during the offseason.

"But he told me he didn't want to me to (get better) until next week," said Matt with a smile. "We probably won't say anything to each other until after the game."

That would be keeping in line with both their prairie placid personalities, which is to say their

numbers outrank their words. Aaron leads the Bills in sacks (8.5) for a second straight season after getting drafted in the second round in 2001. With one catch Sunday, Matt will have 27 for the season, the most by a Cincinnati tight end since 1997. Four catches and Schobel, a third-round pick this year, makes it the first Bengals team ever to have six players with at least 30 catches.

"It's been a stressful week," Aaron said. "The coaches might say, just trying to get you ready by saying, 'Maybe No. 89 can't block that good on this one.' They probably know that irritates me because at the same time you want to take up for him, too."

Brothers going against each other in the NFL isn't a solar eclipse, or anything like that. The Bengals have played two teams this year that had brothers in the Saints' Jake Reed and Dale Carter, and the Titans' Andre and Kevin Dyson. And Chad and Johnnie Morton of the Jets and Chiefs, respectively, played against each other earlier this season, the only one of the league's 12 brother combos that faced off against each in 2002 until this Sunday.

But it is rare that they line up in the trenches against each other, even if Aaron estimates they might get five plays max against each other.

"It's not going to be a huge thing," Aaron said. "He's probably going to be trying to cut me off. It's just going to be football. He's going to be trying to get in my way and I've got to get by him."

The last time they did that was probably in practice at Texas Christian, where Aaron was the Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2000.

They're a close family. They circled this date almost immediately back in April when they spent Draft Day together. Aaron was a reason Matt transferred to TCU from Texas A&M after his freshman season, making it three Schobel brothers who played there.

"I realized we (could) accomplish the same thing," Matt said.

They plan on meeting early next week at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, where a cousin, Bo Schobel, is to play defensive end for TCU.

When the Bengals get a few hours off Saturday night, Matt plans to visit Aaron's home even though his brother will already be holed up with the Bills in their hotel. But he'll spend some time with nephew Brock and his parents before going back to his own hotel room.

"We'll see each other the whole offseason," Matt said of winter in Columbus.

Matt is looking forward to that because he's anxious to see what he can pick up from Aaron watching tape.

"I've been watching him on film and he's been watching me on film," Matt said. "I'm excited about that. He said, 'Bring (the tapes) down.' He's been saying stuff and I've been saying, 'What play? What game?' He just said to bring them all home and we'll watch them together."

Matt figures Aaron can help him not so much in the passing game ("He wouldn't know anything about the routes,"), but in the running game because he's not only played the same position, but has been working against NFL tight ends for two years.

Matt's scouting report on Aaron: "I hate to say it. He's a motor guy, but he has a lot of ability, too. He always goes hard. He's relentless. He goes after the quarterback. He runs plays down. I'd say he's solid."

Aaron says pretty much the same thing about Matt: "He was a really good quarterback. Big guy who could run. A good athlete and he's having a good year. He's catching it and he's getting open. The blocking will come when he picks up a few tricks of the trade."

Matt is probably proudest of the stat that he hasn't flat-out dropped a ball. Plus, 12 of his catches have gone for either a touchdown or a first down.

The Bengals do need him to improve on his blocking, but they feel a guy who is playing just his third season of tight end is more than on the right track.

"I know there are things I have to clean up, but everybody does," Matt said.

Aaron thinks they have one thing in common. Once they go to the pros, they arrived on teams that didn't have veterans at their positions. Aaron started his fifth game in the league and Matt his fourth. Aaron was drafted a month after Marcellus Wiley signed with the Chargers and he finished his rookie year with 6.5 sacks. Matt started the first game after fellow rookie Sean Brewer went down with a knee injury in the third game.

"We didn't really have that one veteran we could learn from by watching," Aaron said. "Marcellus Wiley learned from Bruce Smith, but he was gone by the time I got here. (Matt) is the most experienced guy there. We'll get by on the experience we're going to get in games."

As for Sunday's game, Matt is treating this experience like the previous 15.

"Do what you're taught to do and hope it's good enough and hope it's not too one-sided either way," he said.

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