Bengals hire Bresnahan

5-9-04, 7:30 a.m. Updated:
5-9-04, 4:40 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

After working the five rookie minicamp practices this weeknd, former Raiders defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan signed a one-year contract Sunday to help the Bengals coach their defense. Bresnahan indicated it would at first probably be working on third-down packages.

"Chuck will be a great addition to our staff," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "We'll utilize his talents in a lot of different areas. He'll not only assist our defensive coaches, he'll also help the offensive coaches in the breakdown and analysis of the opponent's defense."

Bresnahan, 43, has been an NFL coach since 1994. He spent 1994-95 with Cleveland, moved to Indianapolis for the 1996-97 seasons, and was with Oakland from 1998 through last season. He was defensive backs coach for his first two Oakland seasons before taking over as defensive coordinator in 2000. His 2002 defense ranked third in the NFL against the run as the Raiders won the AFC Championship.

He said the Bengals were his No. 1 choice in a decision he narrowed to Cincinnati and Denver. With a year left on his Raider contract, Bresnahan said the Raiders are going to pick up the difference in his salary.

**

CAMP CUTS:** After practice Sunday, the Bengals made the following moves: Signed two college free agents, linebacker Joe Siofele of Arizona and tight end Michael Walker of Minnesota-Morris, to one-year contracts after watching them participate in this weekend's minicamp on a tryout basis. Waived quarterback Kurt Kittner, a third-year NFL player. Kittner had been acquired by the Bengals on April 30 on waivers from Atlanta. Waived three college free agents in guard Tyronne Armstrong of Pittsburg State, defensive tackle Eric Johnson of Mount St. Joseph (Cincinnati) and guard Ibrahim Khan of Simon Fraser (Canada).

STARS COME OUT: You can chart the Bengals' improvement by record (8-8), ticket sales (coming off a franchise-record season), free-agency discussions (a couple of late nights with Warren Sapp), and the awarding of a Monday Night game in 2004 after a 12-year absence.

Now, you can add star gazing to the list. No less than three prominent national network blazers showed up Saturday just to see the Bengals' rookies practice.

Granted, two of them, Fox's Cris Collinsworth, the Bengals' former Pro Bowl receiver, and ESPN's Merril Hoge, a good friend of Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, just had to drive down 471 from Fort Thomas, Ky. But they could have been anywhere else on the first perfect weekend of the spring, and CBS' Boomer Esiason stuck around a few extra days after flying in for Friday night's Alumni Dinner.

Collinsworth is hoping he gets to come back to work the Nov. 7 game against the NFC Cowboys with Fox's No. 1 crew, former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman and play-by-play man Joe Buck.

"Nah," said Esiason, who knows he's going to here for CBS radio to analyze the Oct. 25 Monday Night game against Denver. "You'll be in Seattle that week."

Collinsworth sagged at that one. He's dying for a week he doesn't have to drive to the airport to go to work as one of the league's elite mike men.

"There'd be some good give and take with Troy because those are our teams," Collinsworth said.

Collinsworth puts Lewis in some big company. He compares what Lewis has done here to what Parcells is doing in Dallas, and he thinks it's a perfect blend with Bengals President Mike Brown.

"Guys like Parcells. A guy like (Tampa Bay's Jon) Gruden. They've got that something. That charisma," Collinsworth said. "You know they're going to be successful. You just know somehow, some way, they're going to get guys to play and succeed."

The last time the Bengals played on Monday Night at home was Collinsworth's first year in retirement and Esiason led the AFC in passing in 1989. But it's not long enough ago to remember what it meant.

"Everybody in town gets into it," Esiason has been saying since the schedule came out last month. "It's great for the city to be back in the spotlight. I think it really means something when people see the shots of the skyline and their city on national TV."

**

SOLID DEBUT:** Most of the players gathered this weekend at the rookie minicamp aren't going to make the club. But the college free agent with the best chance to make it simply because he has just one guy to beat out, Nebraska punter Kyle Larson, showed Saturday why he's going to be a formidable foe for incumbent Kyle Richardson. In the morning session, he got off a series of punts that traveled consistently 50 to 55 yards.

"Wasn't great. Wasn't bad. It was pretty good," said special teams coach Darrin Simmons, but he did acknowledge Larson has arrived as advertised. "You've got to think that is a guy that produced at a big Division I school for three years. He's not your run-of-the-mill guy. He's had success in big games, too."

Most boards had the 6-1, 204-pound Larson rated high and the Bengals won a spirited recruiting battle in free agency with teams that he won't name. It's believed he is their highest paid college free agent with about $10,000 to sign, but Larson said his experience with Simmons (yes, a fellow Big 12 punter at Kansas) as the North punter in the Senior Bowl back in January meant more than cash.

"I felt right at home here," Larson said. "Coach Simmons is a great coach and it's a great coaching staff. I narrowed it down to a couple and I just thought it was the best fit for me."

During that week in Mobile, Simmons didn't want to change anything that Larson did, "because that's not the time." But a tweak in his stance that Simmons showed him there has helped him here.

"Before, I kind of had my feet out when I was catching the ball," Larson said. "Now I square myself up so I walk in a straight line. That helped me directional punting. We did a lot of directional punting at Nebraska . ..I thought I was pretty consistent (in college) at doing what they wanted, whether it was pooch punting or just punting."

Simmons knew more about Larson than any of the other punters on the market because he was around him all that week in Mobile, and the thing he really liked about him has already showed up.

"Retention," Simmons said. "You can tell he's been working on the things we've suggested. He has to learn to fall out of his stance so his footwork is linear, which gives you as little wasted movement as possible."

Larson, out of the wonderfully named Funk, Neb., looks to have a lot in common with Simmons as a little town guy who went off to kick at the big school in the state. Asked if he was nervous for his first punt of this weekend, Larson said, "No. I felt great here. I was nervous when I first punted in college."

**

SLANTS AND SCREENS:** Just like Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons, so it seems this year's rookie linebacker tandem of Landon Johnson and Caleb Miller is going to be joined at the hip for their Bengals careers. Both guys have stuck out at minicamp. Miller for his instincts, Johnson for his speed and both for their smarts. But all they really know about each other is they're both from Texas.

"We were on the same high school all-star team and I didn't see him for about another five years. Until the combine a couple of months ago,' said Johnson, the classic Lewisbacker because his GPA isn't far off his 40-yard dash time.

"We looked at each other and thought we recognized each other," Johnson said. "Now we're on the same team and we're roommates."

Miller, a strong-side backer from Arkansas, went first in the third round at No. 80. Johnson, a weak-side backer from Purdue, went 16 picks later to close out the first day of the draft. Spikes and Simmons went four picks apart in the first round in 1998.

Johnson has already graduated from Purdue with a 3.5 grade point average in general health sciences with an eye toward being a chiropractor, so it doesn't look like he's going to make many mental mistakes. And with a 4.52-second time in the 40 at his pro day, he ought to get to where he's going in plenty of time. He's a little less than 225 pounds this weekend, but he figures he'll get to his maximum of 230 pounds by training camp.

"You kind of have to unlearn your system and learn their system and the little differences they have in technique," Johnson said. "I think we're good enough athletes at this level. The other guys are stronger and have more knowledge and those are the things we're going to have to catch up on." . . .

Second-round pick Keiwan Ratliff, the cornerback from Florida, came up with an interception Saturday, and sixth-rounder Greg Brooks, the corner from Southern Mississippi, continued to impress. He didn't know that head coach Marvin Lewis had singled him out Friday, along with defensive end Robert Geathers, as the rookies who
had flashed. At 5-11, 177 pounds, he does know why he didn't get drafted higher.

"I guess because I was too small, but I'm not afraid to cover anyone one-on-one," Brooks said. "I really like it here, because I think that (aggressive) style fits what I do." . . . First-round pick Chris Perry is swiftly learning the ropes. He's working on some special teams, which he didn't do at Michigan, and gave the old, "You'll have to talk to my agent, Eugene Parker," when asked about his contract. Going off last year's deal for 49ers tackle Kwame Harris at No. 26 in the first round, Perry is looking at around $4 million to sign. Harris received a seven-year deal that voided to five for about $6.7 million with $3.6 million to sign. . .

The Bengals are expected to announce a deal with former Raiders defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan Sunday, probably as some sort of nickel package coach if the title matches what he seems to be doing at practice. . .

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