6-5-03, 12:35 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The right side is now where the savvy veterans reside on the Bengals' newly sculpted offensive line with tackle Willie Anderson and guard Matt O'Dwyer each taking 104 NFL starts into this season's opener.
But with years comes responsibility, which is why Anderson has found himself lately getting into a left-handed stance.
"Damn, during pass-rush (drills) the other day," Anderson said, "I was thinking I've got to take some left tackle snaps."
Anderson won't turn 28 until he starts his eighth season in July. But with the departures of thirtysomething left tackles Richmond Webb and John Jackson over the past year, Anderson is now the experienced handyman. That means if left tackle Levi Jones goes down for any length of time, Anderson has to switch sides for the first time since his second season, and third-year guard-tackle Victor Leyva would probably move into right.
Guard Scott Rehberg can get the Bengals through a game at left tackle. And one day in the next few years, athletic rookie guard Eric Steinbach should be able to serve as the club's third tackle and able to swing on both sides. Plus, they hope seventh-round pick Scott Kooistra can blossom into a guy that can eventually play both tackles and guards.
But for this season, anyway, it appears Anderson has to step in. The last time he played the left side for any amount of time, he was shifted during the first two games of the 1997 season. When he was drafted with the 10th pick of the 1996 NFL Draft, Anderson was penciled in as the left tackle of the future and he admitted Wednesday he was upset when the Bengals moved him to the right side.
"There was more notoriety playing on the left side and I didn't think you could get to the Pro Bowl or get the big-money contracts," Anderson said. "But the way it's worked out, the contract came ($30 million in a six-year extension three years ago) and the Pro Bowl has been close (two straight first alternate berths), and I think one of the reasons is that defenses are putting as many good ends on their left side as they are on their right."
The Bengals put Anderson on the right side because of the overpowering matchup he provided, allowing them to virtually erase one defender out of the mix. Plus, they had just signed left tackle Kevin Sargent to a lucrative extension and his career was cut short by injury.
Now, they feel like they have one of the better tackle tandems in the league with Jones, also a 10th pick in the draft, moving into his second season.
"There is still a little bit of a stigma to playing right tackle, but not as much," Anderson said. "Look at a lot of these teams and they've got two good ends. (Michael) Strahan plays on that side. Jevon Kearse has moved over there at times. You need two tackles nowadays."
You probably need three or four, and the Bengals hope the 6-6, 320-pound Kooistra can become one of them. But it would break a sacred NFL principle to make a rookie a backup left tackle so soon. But he's getting a good look.
"I think I've been at a different position every day," said Kooistra of bouncing between left and right tackle. "I'm really comfortable playing both sides. They've mentioned to me about playing guard, but I can't think about that right now. We've got a lot of guards who are quality and I'm just trying to learn tackle."
Kooistra played both sides at North Carolina State, working on the left as a junior and on the right as a senior. He's also got some smarts. Both parents are doctors, a vetenerian and an allergist, and he didn't buy a car with his freshly-signed three-year contract.
"A seventh-round pick is just trying to make the team," Kooistra said. "You've got to have something to fall back on. I'll look forward to the next contract."
The biggest adjustment?
"The players are so good here," he said. "The gap is huge between college and the NFL. The jump between high school and college isn't even close."
LEWIS LITANY: A large part of new head coach Marvin Lewis' agenda is to change the way the Bengals approach their work. That has been tested this week, when his club returned to on-field coaching sessions after a week off.
On Monday, Lewis apparently lit up the team during practice for not getting with it. Then he kept his eyes open Tuesday and Wednesday when rain chased them to the Astroturf field, where practices have tended to slow down in the past.
But Lewis didn't let it happen. After watching the first few plays of one Turf practice, Lewis stopped the proceedings and called up the team in the huddle to let him know his displeasure.
He was also heard to say at one point this week, "Learn what you have to do, or we're going to find someone who will."
"There's no scholarships here. You've got to earn your right to get on the field because you represent everyone in this building when you go out there," Lewis said after Wednesday's practice. "It's play for pay. You have to understand that kind of mentality. I think enough guys do. There are a group of guys who just assume and assumptions get you beat."
And Lewis hinted there would be more player moves before training camp. **
SIGNS OF THE TIMES:** The Bengals have now signed one-third of their nine draft picks. Sixth-rounder Langston Moore, a defensive tackle out of South Carolina, signed a three-year deal Thursday, joining first-rounder Carson Palmer and seventh-rounder Scott Kooistra in the fold. . .
Word around the NFL is that the Jets, Packers, and Saints are the top candidates to sign former Bengals quarterback Akili Smith. The Dolphins are an option only if they can't get a deal with Brian Griese.
Saints coach Jim Haslett has talked about how impressed he was when Smith nearly brought the Bengals back to beat the Saints in New Orleans' 31-23 win in Cincinnati during last year's preseason.
In the second half, Smith ran for 64 yards on seven carries and hit 14 of 28 passes for 137 yards that included an 11-yard touchdown pass to Chad Johnson. Saints' No. 1 Aaron Brooks, who has a similar style, has been hampered by injuries.
Smith and agent Kennard McGuire couldn't be reached for comment Thursday. It's believed Smith is looking for a one-year deal, but would consider a two-year deal that New Orleans is reportedly offering.
Meanwhile, Smith's quarterbacks coach in Cincinnati, Ken Anderson, is getting support from Mark Brunell and the Jaguars' other quarterbacks in his new job in Jacksonville. Bart Hubbuch of "The Florida Times-Union," reported Thursday they like Anderson's laid-back, upbeat style and instantly respected him because of his Hall-of-Fame level playing career.
"When you have a coach who played as many years as he did, you really listen because he's been there and knows the game," Brunell said. "Ken has always had a reputation as a solid coach. I don't know what happened in Cincinnati, but you don't last as long as he has in this league unless you're good at what you do."
STUNTS AND SCREENS:** The Bengals are heading into the last year of their training camp deal with Georgetown College in Kentucky, but it's not a done deal that the deal is done. The club expects to open negotiations with the college about an extension around the time camp opens July 27.
Head coach Marvin Lewis has already made a couple of trips to visit the campus, and last week he spoke to a group of local civic leaders. He says there will be adjustments, but they won't be all that visible.
"They're going to make our meeting rooms and space more efficient (and) for the housing of our players," Lewis said. "They're going over and above to help us out that way."
Lewis also said the club will have the use of four fields and he promises the same dramatic change in the menu that has taken place at Paul Brown Stadium during the off-season workouts.
The Bengals haven't drawn well since they moved to Georgetown in 1997, but they don't appear ready to give up yet on what they feel is the key Lexington market. Lewis certainly came out pitching.
"They've just been tremendous to work with," Lewis said of the school. "I think it's going to be fine, exciting. It's a great atmosphere to go to training camp because it's our own little city.
"I think there will be a strong influence of people down there," Lewis said. "There's not many chairs, so they better get there early." . . .
Reserve cornerback Bo Jennings, coming off reconstructive knee surgery, is back working with the team. . .
Defensive tackle Oliver Gibson, coming off Achilles' surgery, is still looking to get cleared. . .