Bengals feel a Brees

2-26-2001 BY GEOFF HOBSON

INDIANAPOLIS _ The Bengals may not know who they will take with the fourth pick in the NFL Draft. But they do know they're going to get an immediate contributor in the second round.

And after watching the quarterbacks and a deep field of fast receivers work out Sunday here in the RCA Dome, it very well could be one of them at the top of the second round.

With Texas left tackle Leonard Davis' agility and intensity questioned during Saturday's workout and Missouri defensive end Justin Smith looking quicker and intenser on Sunday, the club's options in the first round appeared to expand.

The Bengals and Purdue quarterback Drew Brees are intrigued with each other. But there is debate if he's too much of a run-and-shoot quarterback to take with the fourth pick. And there is doubt he'll be available in the second round.

Still, Brees' well-advertised accuracy was sharp enough to keep him in the mix of Cincinnati discussions at No. 4 even as the Bengals try to sign at least one veteran free-agent quarterback and give franchise quarterback Akili Smith another training camp to prove himself.

"I'm curious to see what happens with Akili Smith just because he's been there only two years," Brees said. "I'm not sure what they're going to do. They definitely showed interest. I'll be curious to see what happens."

Brees and the Bengals both. Cincinnati would love for Brees or Oregon State wide receiver Chad Johnson to slide to the second round, but they figure it's not going to happen.

"Brees is attractive," said Bengals President Mike Brown after watching him work. "He's quick footed, quick minded. He's got an excellent release. He's got a strong enough arm and the fact that he's not tall does not disqualify him any more than it disqualifies (Jacksonville's Mark) Brunell or (Denver's Brian) Griese."

In fact, one of the combine's surprises is that Brees is a smidge taller than Virginia Tech quarterback and overall first pick-lock Michael Vick at 6-00-2 compared to 6-00-0.

The Bengals are more interested in height at receiver. If they can't get a tall, fast veteran free agent and if they can't get or decide against Michigan's David Terrell at No. 4, they would be satisfied with the depth in the second round. Suddenly, Terrell's alleged 4.5-second 40-yard dash time is making

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some clubs wonder if he's the next Carl Pickens instead of the next Randy Moss. A leaper and not a speedster.

"Only two receivers in the first (of two groups) ran slower than 4.5 (seconds)," said Bengals receivers coach Steve Mooshagian of the 40-yard dash times. "It's the fastest, most talented group overall I can remember in awhile."

The route running of Grambling's Scotty Anderson, the son-of-a-coach savvy of Miami of Florida's Reggie Wayne, and the speed of UCLA's Freddie Mitchell impressed Sunday. They already liked Kansas State's Quincy Morgan and Wisconsin's Chris Chambers.

Mitchell is a shade under 6-0, but his 40-yard time in the high 4.4s surprised scouts. But Mooshagian has players coming off rookie years in Danny Farmer and Ron Dugans running better routes.

"Mitchell's size doesn't take him out of it," said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals' director of pro/college personnel. "We're looking for fast and big in that order. The biggest thing for us is getting vertical and stretching the field."

Grambling's Anderson didn't run the 40 because two funerals in the past two weeks fouled up his flights and he couldn't get his proper shoes to Indy.

"I think I'll run fast at my workout," said the 6-2 Anderson of his March 13 appointment. "I don't believe there's a guy in the draft that can run routes like I can."

Anderson better be fast on the 13th because a lot of his peers are. Oregon State's 6-2 Johnson, who played just one year of Division I ball, probably locked up a first-round berth Sunday. But he was peeved with his 4.41 40 time.

"I'm definitely a 4.3, but that's impossible. It's terrible here," said Johnson of the dome's notoriously slow track. "Everyone knows I can run. No question about it. I just ran a bad time."

Johnson's flamboyance has the league wondering if he'll be good in the locker room while the Bengals wonder if he'd be OK with trying to turn around a struggling team.

Johnson stood out in Sunday's workout with a pair of bright yellow stretch running pants. He also happens to be a cousin of outspoken NFL players Keyshawn Johnson and Samari Rolle.

But you have to also like the confidence of a possible first rounder submitting to a combine workout.

"I wasn't going to run away from the competition here in Indianapolis," Johnson said "They invited me here, so I'm going to do what I was invited to do. Everybody knows what I can do."

Bengals scout Duke Tobin likes Johnson's smooth route running and nice hands, but he knows the 40 time he ripped off Sunday quite possibly takes him out of the mix in the second round and could make him a mid first-rounder.

Tobin, who worked for the Colts when Indianapolis scouted Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, sees plenty of similarities in Brees.

"It's the intangibles," Tobin said. "He's a leader and he's bright. The drills he did today don't show his strengths. What he does best is 11 on 11 football."

Brees wasn't happy with how he threw and one AFC scout left the dome still not convinced his arm is strong enough to make the long, quick throw from the hash mark to the sideline. Some also thought he tried to dispell the rumblings about his lack of arm strength by drilling every pass as hard as he could.

"I assumed I'd come in here and try to drop back as fast as I could," Brees said. "But all they wanted you to do was just drop back, take your time, be relaxed. It's just the way to get you to relax. . . .I was trying to make it game speed. I was trying to do things quickly.

"Then (the scouts) started talking about being smooth, just (make) completions, don't worry about the speed," Brees said. "But the receivers are going full speed, so you almost have to go full speed so the timing works out."

Still, Brees completed enough throws to clearly be the class of the group. Vick didn't work out. Florida State's Chris Weinke didn't run, but threw decently. Oklahoma's Josh Heupel didn't throw, but ran. They still look to be second- to fourth-round guys.

"Drew Brees is amazing," Anderson said. "You turn around and the ball's right there. Like a Nintendo game."

Brees wished he put more air under his deep balls. But he figured he looked solid enough throwing to group of receivers for the first time in a clear lack of timing.

Plus, his footwork passed muster on seven-step drop-back passes, which he rarely did because the Boilermakers put him in the shotgun formation so often.

"I guess I just re-affirmed a lot of things, I hope," Brees said. "Just trying to be accurate, good balance, good tempo. What a lot of people wanted to see was (me) drop back because they haven't seen that."

Brees shrugged about possibly joining a Bengals' team that took a quarterback with the draft's third pick two years ago.

"There's not any situation that would be a problem," Brees said. "If you go to a place where there's a good quarterback there, then you take advantage of the opportunity and learn from that person."

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