Backers on parade

Updated: 8:55 p.m.

Now that the Bengals have moved beyond Odell Thurman, they seem to have decided they've got enough firepower at middle linebacker.

The way head coach Marvin Lewis has talked, he never planned on Thurman. So linebacker moves like putting No. 1 pick Keith Rivers on the outside, Dhani Jones in the middle, and moving Ahmad Brooks from the middle to the outside figure to hold up for now.

Thurman's release, less than a month after the NFL reinstated him, highlights Cincinnati's lack of experience at the position even though he only had 15 NFL starts and hadn't played in two years.

The Bengals now have 10 linebackers, half of whom are veterans that have a combined nine NFL starts in Brooks, Corey Mays, Jim Maxwell, Darryl Blackstock and Brandon Johnson.

Three of them are rookies in Rivers and college free agents Anthony Hoke and Dan Howell. The other two are the most experienced in Jones' 83 starts and starting SAM backer Rashad Jeanty's 16.

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Jones

Jones, 30, has never played the middle as his primary spot, but the Bengals don't appear to be pursuing the free agents available, such as their first-round picks from a decade ago in Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons. And don't look for Jeremiah Trotter to get a call.

Spikes and Trotter are both 31. Simmons turns 33 next month. Something could happen later in the offseason, but with the Bengals reeling from two seasons of injuries galore, they don't look ready to put some money into veterans with an injury history.

Spikes, who has fought back from ripping up his Achilles, has had off-and-on flirtations with the Bengals this offseason but he doesn't expect to hear from them now even with Thurman's release. Spikes has also talked to the 49ers and Patriots and waits in Atlanta.

"I think when they drafted the linebacker, that was it," Spikes said Monday night of the Rivers pick. "I've got four or five feelers right now. That's how it goes right about now. I think teams are just waiting. Maybe the Bengals are waiting, too. I won't foreclose anything."

That was also the word from Thurman's Chicago-based agent John Michels Monday night. He said filing a grievance against the Bengals "is still an open-ended issue" after they cut Thurman the week after he didn't show for voluntary workouts following the death of his grandmother.

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Thurman

Players aren't obligated to attend and can't be cut for not attending the voluntary sessions. Lewis' statement in a press release Monday indicated that it's more than a week-long issue because Thurman has been allowed to work out with the team since late January.

"The NFL provided Odell the opportunity to earn his way back onto our team, but we have not seen the right steps taken by him," Lewis said. "With our offseason work in progress and new talent added at our linebacker position, we've determined it's best to keep moving in a direction that does not include Odell."

Citing the Bengals' patience and understanding during a two-year ordeal in which Thurman ran afoul of the NFL's substance abuse policy, Michels was careful.

"I don't want to get into a situation where I criticize the team because they've been good to Odell," Michels said. "There is no bad guy here. I may disagree with what the Bengals did. But I can certainly see where they're coming from and I understand their position. I think it was the wrong thing to do."

Michels said "it''s purely a money issue right now" because the Bengals have a pending grievance against Thurman.

Safarrah Lawson, one of Thurman's representatives, said he was grateful to Lewis and Bengals president Mike Brown for their efforts to get Thurman's career and life back on track. But Lawson also said he was surprised at the timing, a week after the funeral of Thurman's grandmother in Monticello, Ga.

Thurman didn't return to Cincinnati for workouts last week and apparently wasn't back Monday. Indications are that the Bengals weren't pleased with his attendance in the offseason workout program that also includes the installation of a new defense with a new linebackers coach.

"He's still in Monticello taking care of things with his family," Lawson said. "Mike and Marvin have been great to him. That's why this is shocking. This is really his last parent that has died. We're appreciative of what the team has done for him."

Betty Thurman, 80, raised Odell after his mother was killed in a car accident when he was 10. His father died while he was in college.

Thurman, 24, was seen once working out on the field since camps began May 2. During the last day of the rookie minicamp he was running and going through drills with head strength coach Chip Morton.

Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh also registered "shock."

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Houshmandzadeh

"You would think if they stood by him when he couldn't play, they would have stood by him when he could play," Houshmandzadeh said. "But there's possibly more to it than we know. I've been talking to guys who say we've got some linebackers that look good, so maybe they just said when they saw them last week, 'If you're not doing what you're supposed to do, we'll go with these guys.' I don't know, but it's too bad."

Thurman, a finalist for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year when several of his game-changing plays helped the Bengals to the 2005 AFC North title, never got back on the field after that season. After not reinstating him for the '07 season for reasons never explained by the NFL, Goodell allowed him back into Paul Brown Stadium in late January.

Houshmandzadeh knows how much Thurman meant in '05.

"To be honest, when I heard Odell was reinstated, I said, 'Good, good, good,' " Houshmandzadeh said. "Because look at what he did when he played. He made plays. That excited me. But obviously he won't be there now."

Lawson said Monday other teams had shown interest hours after the announcement, four weeks to the day NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reinstated Thurman after a pair of one-year suspensions for violations of the league's substance abuse policy.

"Odell is extremely disappointed," Lawson said. "He was really looking forward to playing in Cincinnati and playing for the Bengals. He thought it was a great fit. But he's a 24-year-old linebacker who is a playmaker and he'll have interest in this league."

Lawson confirmed the story that appeared on profootballtalk.com Monday morning and the Bengals followed with a statement that cut ties with Thurman that stretched back to the second round in the 2005 draft.

THE ROOKIE YEAR THAT WAS

  • SEPT. 11. 2005: Started at middle linebacker on Opening Day in Cleveland and led the team with eight tackles and had the first of his five interceptions that would lead all rookies in the Bengals 27-13 victory.

OCT. 16, 2005: Thurman's 30-yard interception return for a TD late in the third quarter bails the Bengals out of a Nashville nightmare. It ties the game at 17 and paves the way for a 31-23 victory over the Titans.

OCT. 30, 2005: Thurman picks off Brett Favre twice, the last one setting up the winning points in a 21-14 Paul Brown Stadium victory over the Packers.

DEC. 4, 2005: As the Bengals beat the Steelers on the road, 38-31, to wrest control of the AFC North, Thurman has a team-high 12 tackles, forces a fumble, and picks off Ben Roethlisberger at midfield in the fourth quarter to set up the Bengals' last and decisive touchdown.

DEC. 11, 2005: After not starting his only game of the season (he said he was late to the locker room because he was signing autographs), Thurman ties his personal best with 13 tackles in a 23-20 victory over the Browns at Paul Brown Stadium.

JAN. 8, 2006: In his last game as a Bengal and 16th overall, Thurman logs a team-high 10 tackles in the 31-17 Wild Card loss to the Steelers at PBS.

FEB. 2, 2006: Appearing in Detroit at the site of the Super Bowl, Thurman shares the stage with Shawne Merriman, DeMarcus Ware and Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Year winner Cadillac Williams.

"I got smarter. I don't think I got better," Thurman says of his development that season. "I just got a whole lot smarter. The game slowed down. My second year, I'll even be even smarter."

JULY 13, 2006: When the Bengals select University of Virginia linebacker Ahmad Brooks in the third round of the supplemental draft, word breaks that Thurman is lost for the first four games of the season because of a violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy. It begins a 676-day odyssey that ends with Thurman's release.

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