Bears step in on lineman

7-10-01, 7:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bernard Whittington hopes to make a decision by Wednesday night or Thursday morning on which defensive line he'll play for this season.

After passing his physical in Cincinnati Tuesday, Whittington is expected in Chicago Wednesday for a visit with Greg Blache, the Bears defensive coordinator and Whittington's position coach in Indianapolis for several years.

That figures to give the Bears a leg up, but agent David Levine wasn't ready to call it.

"We're also considering the Jets," Levine said Tuesday night. "Bernard liked the Bengals' coaches and their facility. The lure of his old coach in Chicago is also a big factor, but you have to wait for him to visit to see how it comes out."

Whittington, who turns 31 next month, has spent all

seven of his unspectacular but steady and durable NFL seasons with the Colts. He was told he would play mainly tackle in Cincinnati, where the Bengals' line is already stocked with four veteran inside players in Oliver Gibson, Tony Williams, Tom Barndt and Glen Steele. But Barndt is coming off major shoulder surgery and Steele has battled nagging injuries through his career. He may miss up to the first two weeks of training camp after spraining his foot on a July 4 jog.

The tag team of head coach Dick LeBeau and defensive line coach Tim Krumrie apparently did its job in raising Whittington's interest.

"He was told the best guys are going to play. That there will be a rotation and if they get thin at end, they think he can help them there," Levine said. "He's a Krumrie kind of guy. A no-nonsense hard worker who is good in the locker room. There should be a chance there because the only locks there look to be Oliver and Tony."

There is also opportunity with the Bears, where tackles Keith Traylor (out for the preseason after surgery) and Ted Washington (375 pounds and more than 30 years old) are questionable. The Bears also see the 6-5, 280-pound Whittington as an end, where transition free-agent Bryant Robinson has yet to sign.

"It's going to come down to what is his best career move," Levine said before joking, "but you figure if I'm representing him, there's a 50-50 chance he's coming to the Bengals."

If the Bears have Blache, the Bengals have a tie with Levine. He represented Gibson, free safety Darryl Williams, and cornerback Rodney Heath when they either signed or re-signed with the Bengals in free agency. Levine also has represented defensive end Reinard Wilson and safety Tremain Mack since the club drafted them in 1997.

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