8-5-02, 4:45 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ The last time we saw Drew Bledsoe, Bengals outside linebacker Adrian Ross chased him out of bounds on the Patriots' last desperate play of their 23-17 loss in Paul Brown Stadium last Opening Day.
Now after an offseason in which the Bengals say Bledsoe sent enough signals to management that he didn't want to be traded to Cincinnati, Ross, the Bengals' hugely talented backup, is preparing for Bledsoe again in another opener. This time it's the pre-season opener in Buffalo Friday night, in Bledsoe's Ralph Wilson Stadium debut that has been billed as the Second Coming.
Bengals President Mike Brown has already said he'll be thinking about Bledsoe's decision as he watches Friday's game, but he's probably happy to hear his players aren't wrapped up in it like Bledsoe was Elvis or something.
"I don't think it really matters to us. (He was on) a team we beat and a guy we shut down. We know what people think about the whole organization and what we've been doing," Ross said this week here at Georgetown College. "I think it's at the point now where we know where we're going and people are ready to move and people are going to miss out on where we're going. There are a lot of other people I won't name who
have taken less money to play elsewhere. Maybe they'll win. Maybe they won't."
As Bengals defensive captain Takeo Spikes said, "It's too early to give you any bulletin board stuff on that."
So the Bengals aren't taking the bait when it comes to an Elvis Grbac-like feud with Bledsoe. Spikes gave Grbac a shot before and after last year's 21-10 win over the Ravens because the quarterback chose to pass the Bengals' mega offer to go with a winner in Baltimore.
As for his part, when asked about the Bengals this past weekend at the Bills training camp, Bledsoe refused to address the issue.
And middle linebacker Brian Simmons, who was once supposedly on the block in a Bledsoe deal, shrugged Monday.
"That doesn't change anything," Simmons said. "He was basically a free-agent because they felt he had done so much for them that they would trade him to a team he wanted. You'd have a hell of a lot of guys to get mad at for every free agent that doesn't sign. He's probably going to play for a quarter or so and we'll just get on his butt. That's what we do around here."
Around here for years there has been more grousing about the players who don't come to the Bengals than about the players they do get. But this group seems to have grown immune to the national perception.
"How about the guys in '96, '97, '98, '99, 2000 and 2001 who said the same thing?" asked Willie Anderson, the seven-year tackle. "That wasted anger you have should be focused to getting your team better. As players, we can't mad about that. It's about the offensive line doing its job, the backs doing their job, everybody doing their job, and being productive. That's wasted energy getting mad about stuff like that."
Ross didn't even know he would be facing Bledsoe until he went home Saturday night and caught a clip of the Bills' scrimmage against the Browns and then realized Bledsoe was now in Buffalo.
"When he came in, the game was a little different. It was a Dan Marino type of thing," Ross said. "He's still an effective quarterback, but the zone blitzes came in and he really can't get out of the way that easy. They have to do a little more to protect him, but he can really sling it if he gets the time. That's what he did against us. He kept them alive by completing some third-and-longs late."
So the Bengals will be bringing the heat, but Bledsoe doesn't figure to play very much. Ross, who can play all three spots, is going to play more than that and he doesn't mind he's sitting here when he could be starting on other teams.
That's because sources said last year Ross got $900,000 to sign a deal that runs through 2004 for a total of $4.3 million. He gives them some insurance if they can't re-sign Simmons or Spikes or both next year because he's a do-everything 251-pounder who can rush and drop into coverage.
In fact, against Bledsoe he was rushing from end on passing downs with Reinard Wilson because Smith was not yet activated since he had just signed his contract the day before.
"It's a lot easier now," said Ross of dealing with life as a backup. "The only time I had a tough time is when I first came in (1998 as a free agent out of Colorado State) and I was behind Reinard. I felt he wasn't a linebacker and I was. It was a little harder when they labeled me as someone who had to learn to drop (into pass coverage), but I didn't."
Ross played on a tender ankle that day against New England, which is no surprise since he's missed just seven games in four seasons. The game plan for Ross is to play where he's told. It could be in the middle, on either side, or at rush end. That seems to be the only game plan the Bengals are lugging into Drew's Day on Buffalo's Good Friday.
"That's a subject for management to get mad about and the fans to hate him a little," Anderson said of Bledsoe. "But you can't tell me Justin Smith, Reinard, and Brian and those guys aren't going to go out there and try to hit him as hard as they can regardless of if he said, 'Cincinnati was my first pick, but we couldn't get anything done.'
" Of course not," Anderson said. "(Bledsoe) didn't say that before that game and (Ross) still went after him. It's all about doing a job."
But there's still plenty of time for the bulletin board. The Bengals go back to Buffalo for real to end the season Dec. 29.