Bengals expect to lose another FB

6-20-01, 11:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals fear they have lost their second fullback in six weeks to a season-ending torn anterior cruciate knee ligament.

After starter Nick Williams underwent surgery last month, practice squad player Ricky Brown hurt his knee this week while playing for the Berlin Thunder in NFL Europe.

The Bengals have been told the Thunder's doctors saw the tear with a magnetic resonance imaging test, but they are still waiting for air-tight confirmation.

While the Bengals spent Wednesday looking to fill Brown's roster spot for training camp, they released first-year player LaVell Boyd in a numbers game that is crunching the wide receiver position.

Also Wednesday, the agent for fourth-round pick Rudi Johnson said he met Tuesday in Denver with Bengals vice president Paul Brown and said the sides made progress toward a contract for the Auburn running back.

While Johnson figures to be one of the running backs the Bengals keep this season, there is a very real possibility the only fullback the club will retain is Lorenzo Neal. Still,

the Bengals need at least one more body at training camp to join Neal and Clif Groce.

Williams has an outside shot at returning in October, but the Bengals will be hard pressed to keep a roster spot open for him for that long.

Ricky Brown, 24, signed a two-year deal before going to Europe after spending his rookie season's final three weeks on the practice squad last year. Brown, a college free agent out of Texas, was cut after three pre-season games. He had three touchdowns for Berlin, one on a 32-yard run.

Boyd, 24, a rookie free agent from Louisville, spent last season's first dozen games on the practice squad before getting called up to the active roster and playing the final two games on special teams.

He became expendable last week when the Bengals capped a furious offseason in search of receivers when they claimed third-year veteran Malcolm Johnson on waivers from the Jets.

Boyd's departure still leaves the Bengals with nine drafted receivers and only two (Chris Rosier and Damon Griffin) who weren't.

The Bengals are left with one first-round draft pick (Peter Warrick), two second-rounders (Darnay Scott and Chad Johnson), a third-rounder (Ron Dugans), two fourth-rounders (Craig Yeast and Danny Farmer), a fifth-rounder (Malcolm Johnson), a sixth-rounder (Chad Plummer), and a seventh-rounder (T.J. Houshmandzedah).

The Bengals made headway earlier this week in a bid to sign their current fourth-round pick in Rudi Johnson. Paul Brown met with agent Peter Schaffer on Shaffer's home turf in Denver, where the pair also got in a round of golf.

Final score: Schaffer 87, Brown 92, Johnson 0 but gaining ground.

"We got the ball around, but we're still about 100 yards from the island green," said Schaffer of the negotiations. "But we made progress. We both made some good shots."

Asked if a deal was imminent, Schaffer kept teeing up the golf theme with, "If there's a sudden gust of wind from Cincinnati."

Brown is doing the deals for four of the seven draft picks, but has had only preliminary talks with Chad Johnson, Houshmandzedah and third-rounder Sean Brewer.

Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn, in charge of first-rounder Justin Smith, and agent Jim Steiner expect those negotiations to percolate with intensity in the next 10 days.

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