A football Jones

4-21-02, 1:00 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Two years ago on Draft Day, some Bengals insiders wished they had taken Arizona State left tackle Marvel Smith in the second round instead of cornerback Mark Roman.

On Saturday, they made sure they got that sophomore left guard who looked so promising playing next to Smith. Except they had to get Levi Jones in the first round, which unnerved everyone but the Bengals.

"I have a gut feeling about this guy," said offensive line coach Paul Alexander, who earlier in the day slammed his hand on the wood podium for good luck in invoking the names of the last three first-round pure tackles the Bengals selected:

Vernon Holland in 1971.

Anthony Munoz in 1980.

Willie Anderson in 1996.

The Bengals aren't looking for the 23-year-old Jones to become the next greatest tackle ever in Munoz. But a younger version of incumbent left tackle Richmond Webb would be quite nice.

And he may be playing in front of the 35-year-old Webb sooner than people think. Head coach Dick LeBeau has placed Jones behind Webb on the depth chart, but Alexander said going in front "might happen soon. He has the ability to (make it) happen soon."

And LeBeau said it was a move both for the future and the present.

What happens to Webb's 37-year-old backup, John Jackson, is uncertain. He is a LeBeau favorite, but he's also one of five tackles now on the roster. Although LeBeau said one of the tackles (Jamain Stephens) could move to guard as an option.

Which is what Alexander won't do with Jones, although some projected tackles have broken into the league that way.

Jackson heard the news as he got off the golf course in San Diego Saturday.

"I never follow the draft," Jackson said. "All I can say for a left tackle just coming into the league, 'Welcome to the real world.' He's in a great situation. They're going to be able to groom him with some veterans."

Although the Bengals were relatively pleased with Webb's play in pass protection last year, there was some concern he began to break down here and there late in the year. Plus, Webb's weakness is run-blocking and they felt some of running back Corey Dillon's struggles trace to that.

Alexander thinks Jones has the potential to be both an above-average run blocker as well as an above average pass protector. He doesn't want to call the kid, "Tiger Woods," but he says the way Jones snaps into his man is like the way Woods accelerates through a golf ball.

"When I saw this man block - and I can envision Corey Dillon with the ball under his arm and this guy making a point of attack and cutting off guys from the back side," LeBeau said. "There was no way I was unattracted to this player. He's a very, very welcome addition to this franchise."

Here's a guy who walked on at ASU, began on the defensive line, moved to guard, then became a first-team Pac 10 tackle. He also dabbled in basketball on the college level with long, 36-inch arms that Alexander loves.

"When it was good, it was good, when it was bad, it was bad," said Jones of his transition from defense to offense. "I had to slow down. I was lunging always with my weight forward."

For a team that has taken three pure tackles in the first round since the Nixon Administration, the Bengals were certainly protective of the left tackle spot Saturday. So much so that they passed on t trades that took them to No. 15 and below while they were on the clock. Not to mention passing on two immediate impact players in tight end Jeremy Shockey and Phillip Buchanon.

They also proposed a trade down that got shot down, but they still got creamed by the local and national pundits screaming they didn't get enough value. Bengals President Mike Brown figured what is four to five picks when it comes to such a key position.

"It shows what a good offensive left tackle means," said Brown of Munoz's shadow. "You don't worry about the position when you have that guy. In Munoz's case, we just didn't think about it. You were covered there. We've thought about it some since, and we hope this guy can come in and do a good solid job. We aren't expecting him to come in and be like Anthony Munoz. We just want him to be a good solid player at this spot."

Jones says he knows all about Munoz. He has watched his instructional camp on tape and his coaches have preached to him the Munoz fundamentals.

Jones knows himself there were times this year he lacked the fundamentals. The scouts gave him the "inconsistent," tag, but Alexander thinks that's because he was adjusting to a new scheme and new techniques his senior year, some of which were unconventional.

"I had four position coaches in four years," Jones said. "I could see someone saying that. They might have thought because they didn't understand what was going on with the offense and where I was supposed to be. There were some plays I may have looked confused and which I probably was, but I think for the most part I played well and I played hard."

That's one thing Alexander loves is Jones' motor. A major argument he used to defend his pick is that the majority of the NFL's line coaches had either Miami's Bryant McKinnie or Texas' Mike Williams rated No. 1 and the consensus No. 2 pick was Jones.

"I know of those three," Alexander said, "Jones plays the hardest."

If Jones is like Munoz in one respect is that he strives to be a good person off the field. Here's a guy who comes from a town of about 12,000 and they all seemed to be at his mother's house in Eloy, Ariz., Saturday. He figures he was ranked about sixth in his high school class of about 100 and went to Arizona State at first on an academic scholarship.

"I don't think you'll find one person that has had any complaints about me in any situation," Jones said. "I've always acted right and done the right thing in the right situation."

The Bengals are hoping they did on Saturday.

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