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Bengals fill instead of scramble

4-25-04, 7:55 p.m.


Sunday's three picks in the fourth round of the NFL Draft and what the Bengals didn't take with the final three picks proved just how different things are around here and provided a microcosm into what is supposed to be Marvin Lewis' seminal draft weekend.

Not only did the Bengals emerge with their most drafted players in the free-agency era with 11, but they were able to pick them knowing there was at least a starter in front of them, and that allowed them to fill the middle and bottom of their roster instead of just the top with the qualities that Lewis wants to stamp on the whole team.

Speed. Athleticism. Brains. Passion.

Thanks to an offseason even busier than the one last season that brought Lewis from Washington, the Bengals had filled all starting vacancies through free agency and trades before Saturday.

"We've already addressed many of the issues on top of the rosters a little bit more than maybe they did in the past," Lewis said Sunday. "We addressed a lot of the issues through free agency and the changing of our guys out and bringing in other guys. . .Hopefully that means more depth. . .We hope all 11 make it."

Exhibit A: Even though they may have the best tackle-tandem in the NFL, their last pick in the fourth round at No. 123 turned out to be a very large offensive tackle from Mississippi named Stacy Andrews. He has played just 70 snaps in his high school and college career, but his 6-6, 340-pound physical skills of an elite track thrower of the discus and hammer have scouts salivating about that phrase "huge upside."

Asked if it's the least experienced player he's ever drafted, offensive line coach Paul Alexander said, "He may be the least experienced player ever drafted.

" If he can progress to where we want him to be, he can be a very good player," Alexander said. "If he doesn't then he's a fourth-round pick."

Exhibit B: Even though the Bengals have two young, experienced corners backing up Tory James, Deltha O'Neal, and Keiwan Ratliff in Terrell Roberts and Reggie Myles, the Bengals didn't settle for that when the best player on the board in round six was Southern Mississippi corner Greg Brooks. They could have veered off to pluck a guard or center on pure need, but the grade held for Brooks, securing a lively training camp competition.

"Toward the end, it's a great chance to take a guy who can compete with the guys at their positions," said secondary coach Kevin Coyle. "They have a chance to make us better. If he can't, then the guys we already have are stepping up."

Coyle likes how the 5-10, 175-pound Brooks stands up in press coverage and doesn't back down. That's what Lewis likes about the other fourth-round picks, even though they are young and coming out of college early. While the Bengals went with sure things on the first day, they were able to take some chances with their fourth-rounders.

But only up to a point.

"The thing those three guys have in common is they play hard," Lewis said. "If they can't play hard, let somebody else try to turn them around. I've been down that road and it doesn't work.

"We passed on the underachievers and got some athletic overachievers, and that's important," he said.

Michigan State defensive tackle Matthias Askew, the first fourth-round pick, is 21 and is said to have been a first-rounder if he stayed in school another year. The second fourth-round pick, Georgia defensive end Robert Geathers, a 6-3, 270-pounder who brings his nickname "Junior," into Ken Griffey Jr.'s hometown, is only 20. But he has been preparing for this ever since he was three years old and saw his Uncle Jumpy play in New Orleans.

"Since that day. I never forgot it," said Geathers of his dream. He never got a chance to see his father, Robert, play during his six seasons in Buffalo, but the father should see his son playing in Cincinnati as the family continues on in the NFL.

"He'll be able to get bigger than he is. He doesn't have an ounce of fat on him," said defensive line coach Jay Hayes, who might be able to use Geathers at both ends. "These guys have things that will help us in their first year. We didn't pick them to have them sit around."

The competition also gets jacked up on the line as it does in the secondary. Geathers is going to push last year's seventh-round pick, Elton Patterson, for one of the last end spots. The 6-5, 339-pound Askew has loads of potential and could possibly grow into that Ted Washington-type run stuffer in pushing Langston Moore, last year's sixth-round pick.

The ESPN buzz was that Askew doesn't play hard all the time. But they also had some clips of him dominating people.

"I think he is just a young player. They have had some turnover with some coaches at Michigan State. They have had some things go on up there that may have made them lose their focus, especially when he was a sophomore," Hayes said. "Now he's coming to a place, and the first thing I told him was, bring your lunch pail. You are coming here to work. Don't think it is going to be a vacation. And I don't think he does. We definitely feel that with his size, growth potential and the flashes that he shows on field that he could be really good. He's one of those big guys inside that can really rush the passer. He's got long arms and has a good club move. There is a reason they put on tape those plays, because the guy does make plays."

Askew laughed when asked about the lunch pail, but he knows what Hayes means.

"OK, Coach, you're going to get on me, so I'm going to step up," Askew said. "I don't really know what they're talking about. They don't know how many snaps guys play or who is getting double teamed, but I'll just say I'm going to play hard."

Askew also looks to be the hungry type of guy Lewis seeks. He said he didn't stay in school because he felt it was time to help his family struggling with personal problems in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Geathers' first memory is carrying a football his father gave him when he was three years old and Senior chasing after him for the tackle. The Bengals think they are getting a guy already wise in the way of the NFL. Jumpy, who played for four teams during 13 seasons in the '80s and '90s amassing 62 career sacks, has been working with his nephew.

""I think it's more mental than anything," said Junior of the jump to the NFL. " I've been talking to my uncle for the last week. He has been telling me how to deal with certain situations. He talked more about the mental part of the game as opposed to the physical part."

When it comes to the physical, is there anyone more impressive than Andrews? Unless it's his brother, the 6-5, 350-pound Shawn who Stacy calls my "little big brother." Shawn the second tackle to go in the draft, No. 16 to Philadelphia, and Stacy has been wondering what might have been if he took the advice of the Ole Miss offensive line coach his freshman year and stopped track and started playing football.

"I love it now," said Andrews, a world-class throw of the hammer and discus who is turning down a shot at the Olympics.

But Alexander thinks those techniques have turned him into a fine prospect. Plus, Andrews thinks his power will translate to football. He squats 770 pounds and bench presses 450 pounds, which should make him the star of the weight room.

He'll make the run for third tackle quite interesting, with guys like last year's seventh-rounder Scott Kooistra, and four-year veteran Victor Leyva in a competition with some free agents already signed after the season. Justin Sands is playing in NFL Europe, but Alexander is looking for a guy to step into a situation similar to what happened last season in Baltimore when left tackle Levi Jones left what amounted to the AFC North title game with a knee injury.

"He has good feet, very long arms, strength, and good body snap," Alexander said of Andrews. "If you saw him at the combine and didn't know who he was, you'd say he looked like a top player. He'll be impressive. You'll see."

"He has to learn more how to do it. He only played 70 snaps last season," he said. "I watched the tape his agent put out and it contained all 70 plays from last season. When you watch that film and for a guy whose only played that little, it's pretty remarkable. He's from a football family and just needs to learn how to do it. We're in a situation where we have two outstanding tackles. This point in time he is a great pick."

Which is part of Lewis' point about some of the criticism leveled at the Bengals about taking players about half a round early.

"Bill Tobin was showing me how he had charted o our final picks," said Lewis of the Bengals scouting consultant. "How we were picking guys numerous spaces behind where we felt they were on our board. We didn't have 35 guys (rated) in the first round. We had 20 in the first round and about 60 in the first two rounds. It's not like we're over evaluating. We're probably under evaluating. On the other hand, (it was) in the fifth before we had a guy ranked as a free agent who was picked. That says we're doing a good job with balance at the top and not under evaluating guys."

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