7-28-03, 7:15 a.m. Updated:
7-28-03, 1 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ The Bengals found an old friend on the waiver wire Monday and claimed offensive lineman Alex Sulfsted from the Redskins with the intent of playing him at tackle and guard.
The 6-3, 320-pound Sulfsted, of Mariemont High School in suburban Cincinnati and nearby Miami University, was on the Bengals' practice squad during the first part of the 2001 season before Washington claimed him. Sulfsted lobbied his hometown team to sign him after the Chiefs cut him after his rookie training camp in 2001. He played in 14 games and started three last season, catching the eye of former Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis.
"He has some very good qualities and he can come in here and compete for a job on our offensive line," Lewis said. "He did an outstanding job when he was pressed into service as a starter in Washington. He has the temperament and attitude."
DILLON FINED?:** Running back Corey Dillon indicated after practice Monday that he apologized to his teammates for missing Sunday's team meeting. But no one is saying if he's going to get fined for what is usually $5,000 for missing a mandatory meeting, although the conventional wisdom holds new head coach Marvin Lewis is going to ring him. Dillon told his teammates it was nothing against them and that he wasn't sending a message to them or the coaches, but that he simply missed the flight and that's why he didn't arrive until about 11 p.m.
"If they're going to fine me, fine me. Quit talking about it," Dillon said. "Get it over with. Let's move on. It's not like I'm going to be missing $5,000 anyway. It's no big deal. Fine me, let's keep it moving."
Dillon said if anyone should get fined, its Delta Airlines. Apparently Dillon got to the airport late in Seattle and security wouldn't let him on the plane and decided to put him on a later plane.
"I pleaded with Delta. I called the (Bengals') office in Cincinnati, but I couldn't get anyone," said Dillon on why he didn't phone ahead to tell of his problem.
For his part, Lewis said he was "disappointed," and called the incident "unfortunate." But he also said it was in the past and "it's time to move on.
"Corey's been great," Lewis said. "He's excited about playing football this year."
SCHOBEL OUT:** Tight end Matt Schobel may be out as much as a week after injuring his hamstring in Monday morning's practice.
DEALS, DEALS:** With Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis hours away from addressing his team for the first time Sunday night at training camp, the club signed three-year deals with their two fourth-round picks, Oregon State cornerback Dennis Weathersby and Western Kentucky fullback Jeremi Johnson.
Not in the meeting were unsigned draft picks Eric Steinbach and Kelley Washington, but at least one of them was on campus Sunday. Steinbach, the second-rounder, drove into the players' parking lot in the afternoon, but he was only dropping off first-rounder Carson Palmer. The agent for the third-rounder, Washington, couldn't be reached for comment.
Steinbach, who flew in from Chicago Sunday, had his luggage in the back of Palmer's truck. But he turned it around and headed back to Cincinnati while waiting to hear from agent Jack Bechta.
Bechta said he was surprised he had been unable to reach a deal with the Bengals Sunday and said he was "disappointed." He's looking for a slot deal at No. 33 that compares with the No. 34-36 picks.
"We're not looking for anything out of the ordinary," Bechta said. "We just want a fair deal for Eric that fits with everyone else."
Steinbach briefly spoke to the media before making the U-Turn.
"My job is to go back to Cincinnati and wait for a phone call," Steinbach said. "As soon as I get the phone call, I'll shoot right down. It's an hour ride. My orders are to go back.
"The ball is in their court, hopefully it gets done," said Steinbach, who says he doesn't what is holding it up. "At least I have car. Easy access to get down when it gets done. We're roommates, he can trust me with his car."
Weathersby made the the drive down and stayed. According to Steve Caric, one of his representatives, Weathersby got the highest signing bonus in the round as the fourth round's top pick. He signed the contract later in the day when he drove in from Cincinnati to report with the rest of the team in the afternoon.
"He's thrilled," Caric said. "Three months ago, he wasn't sure he'd even be in this position, but he is and he's excited to get going."
Weathersby is one of three projected first-round draft picks that fell to the Bengals later and could end up with significant playing time as rookies. He was shot six days before the draft on Easter, but has recovered enough to be in opening drills after missing all the pre-season camps. Steinbach is the only rookie slated to start when he lines up at left guard, and Washington, a wide receiver from Tennessee who has recovered from a neck injury, was drafted to complement Chad Johnson on the other side.
Bechta said Saturday night a deal with the Bengals was "inching closer," less than 24 hours before the club reported to Georgetown. But as midnight neared and talks closed for the night, Bechta said, "We still have a lot of work to do on most of the issues and we'll get going on it first thing in the morning."
Bechta said he thought they were in the final stages of negotiations because the market for the first pick in the second round (33rd overall) is pretty much set after deals for Nos. 34 and 36 had been inked, but he said they were still hashing out all the numbers, such as average per year and escalators.
"We've traded proposals three or four times in the last 24 hours or so," Bechta said. "The market is pretty much what it's going to be because the Bengals are one of the last teams in. We're not there, but we're working at it."
The Bears reportedly reached a deal with the No. 35 pick Saturday night and all indications are that contract fell in line with the high second-round trend of a five-year term with escalators.
Last week, Bechta indicated it might be an 11th-hour deal that brings Steinbach into the fold as he looked at the Bengals' track record on signing second-round picks. Last year, safety Lamont Thompson agreed to terms on reporting day. The year before that, Chad Johnson inked two days before reporting. The two years before that, Mark Roman and Charles Fisher held out, but Bechta hasn't mentioned that possibility and keeps saying things will get done.
"There have been a series of five-year deals with escalators and if we decide to go that route, I would expect the Bengals to jump all over that," said Bechta, referring to deals right behind Steinbach in the second round. "We're not committed to that yet, but I guess that's a way it might go because of the trend."
The Bengals did get a deal done Friday when seventh-rounder Elton Patterson, a Central Florida defensive end, signed a three-year contract. They also signed a rookie Thursday in college free agent Noah Happe, a fourth-year junior who is a defensive end from Oregon State.
The agent game is to get more money for their player than what the player got last year drafted in the same spot. The problem for all NFL teams is the league's rookie pool for 2003 is roughly the same amount that it was in 2002.
According to numbers reported by ESPN.com, the problem for the Bengals and Steinbach is the club has already used up 62 percent of the pool on their five signed draft picks, with 47 percent of that going to the draft's overall No. 1 pick in Carson Palmer.
Bechta would no doubt have like to have used the voidable-concept that would stretch out the signing bonus over seven years in a contract that would void to four years. The Bengals, fearing that money would be robbed from their veterans in future years, have always avoided voidable deals in the second round, and Bechta knows why.
"It makes your cap a little less complicated to manage (without the voidables)," Bechta said. "Teams don't like to use them and the Bengals don't want to open the door after the first round. I can understand that. But at the same time, if you're buying a house in the neighborhood. . ."
But the neighbors din't opted for voidables. At No. 34, a slot behind Steinbach, Detroit linebacker Boss Bailey signed a five-year, $4.6 million deal, which gives him a $95,000 roster bonus that comes equipped with an escalator clause. At No. 35, Louisiana-Lafayette safety Charles Tillman also reportedly got a five-year deal with escalators as well as a signing bonus in the $2.1 million range. At No. 36, the Patriots also signed cornerback Eugene Wilson to a straight five-year contract that includes an escalator in the fifth year.
The Bengals haven't been in love with giving rookies escalators, but they would probably rather make up the signing bonus to Steinbach in that fashion rather than doling out voidable years.
HUNLEY REPORTS 19 YEARS LATE:** It had all the makings of an episode straight from "The Twilight Zone." Here came Bengals new linebackers coach Ricky Hunley reporting to a Bengals' training camp for the first time Sunday. He should have been here, or rather Wilmington College, in 1984, when the Bengals used the seventh pick in the draft to take him out of Arizona.
But he held out, forced a trade to Denver (yes Rod Serling fans, the team the Bengals open with Sept. 7), and never made a training camp until the next season because he didn't report until October. He said he had no special thoughts pulling into Georgetown, just reiterating that he had no regrets and that it was now nice he could attend Bengals' alumni events.
"You know what I was really thinking?" Hunley asked. "I was thinking, 'I'm so excited to get started.' I'm tired of all the talk. I'm tired of all the whining and the complaining about the past. Let's get busy."
WEIGHT WATCHERS:** It looks like some key Bengals stayed in shape during the six-week break from the club's most well-attended off-season conditioning program ever. Right tackle Willie Anderson, a 340-350-pound guy this early, said he came in at 339 pounds, and defensive tackle Oliver Gibson arrived at 303, down from his usual 315 or more.
Gibson has been rehabbing from a torn Achilles' tendon and isn't pleased to hear they may start him out slow because he feels like he's ready and says he has been cleared "100 percent." One thing is for sure. He responded with flying colors to management's call that he had to watch his weight during his rehab, and the whispers that his spotty play last season was because he came in rather heavy last camp.
"I changed my entire habits," Gibson said.
"It was funny because you never really know what kind of perception people have of you until something happens. I never knew I was a guy with a weight problem. I never had a problem as far as a weigh-in, or anything like that. When someone puts a challenge out there before you, you have to meet it. It's fine. I actually want to play lighter this year."
Gibson, who came into the league in 1995, never missed a practice until the injury. He's extremely pumped about the prospect of playing again and is pleased with the session in pads being switched to mornings from afternoons.
"I've never been this excited about a training camp except since my first year," Gibson said. "I love football and it's good to be playing again after being a spectator for five months.
"I really like going to the pads first thing in the day," Gibson said. "It gets you loose for the rest of the day. Not saying that the afternoon is going to be easier, but it's more cerebral and quickness."
PALMER CONTENT: No. 1 pick Carson Palmer, fresh off his July 5 wedding at Pebble Beach to Shaelyn Fernandes and a 10-day Hawaii honeymoon, is a freshman again. The only times he has ever walked into a camp not No. 1 are his freshman years at Santa Margarita High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., and USC. And he's at ease working behind Jon Kitna.
"I'm thankful I'm not going to be playing every single game and take every single rep because I don't know it yet. I'm not comfortable with the offense
yet. It's comforting knowing that Jon has this team in his hands and he's a great quarterback and he can handle that responsibility."
Palmer's biggest impact of camp so far came when he loaned second-round pick Eric Steinbach, his minicamp roommate, his truck so he could drive it back to Cincinnati and be ready to wheel in when he signed his contract. Palmer, who signed two days before the draft, picked him up at the airport and gave him some advice.
"I told him to trust his agent and the team and that they'll work to get you the best deal," Palmer said.
Asked if he could trust his rookie left guard with his truck, Palmer said, "I trust him with my life, I've got to trust him with my truck."
As for Kitna, he's got the best of both worlds. He's got the No. 1 job, but Palmer has the No. 1 scrutiny.
"That's fine with me," Kitna said. "You guys can talk to him all you want. Everybody is going to be paying attention to him and wondering how he's doing and all those things. Hopefully we can just fly under the radar and all of a sudden put up all kinds of points."