Bengals host prospects

4-11-03, 10:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Two potential No. 1 picks should be around minicamp Sunday. The agent for Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman said his client flew into Cincinnati Saturday night, and USC quarterback Carson Palmer is also expected.

College prospects aren't allowed to work out at NFL facilities, but they can visit and meet with coaches and players. They will also probably get physicals.

Despite published reports about Newman's shoulder getting re-checked in Indianapolis recently, agent David Ware said he has been assured by the top ten teams picking in the draft including the Bengals that it isn't a problem.

Palmer, who is the frontrunner, is well acquainted with the Bengals' coaching staff. Twice in the span of a week last month in Los Angeles he sat down for long sessions with offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese. He also had a long enough meeting with head coach Marvin Lewis that they had to settle for cold burritos in a conference room for lunch while watching tape.

DILLON: FAMILY MATTERS: Corey Dillon turned on ESPN and couldn't believe the media mushroom cloud enveloping his absence from this weekend's Bengals' voluntary minicamp.

"They made it out like I'm some kind of monster," Dillon said Friday night from suburban Los Angeles. "They should look up voluntary in the dictionary. I volunteered to be with my family this weekend and if anybody there thinks anything is more important than my people, they better talk to me. If it's mandatory, I'm there."

Marvin Lewis chose not to take on Dillon publicly after his first two practices as the Bengals' head coach, saying the team would move on. But after talking to Lewis a few times on the phone, Dillon said he has no problems with the new coach, likes what he's doing, and he had no intention of sending management a trade message by not showing up.

Yet the reaction to him being the only starter not to appear at all the sessions of Lewis' first camp has him fuming about what he feels is excessive scrutiny of his actions.

"I've got no gripes with Marvin Lewis," Dillon said. "If I wanted to be traded, don't you think I'm bold enough that I would have come out and asked? This has nothing to do with Marvin or the Bengals. This is about me and my family and I'm sick and tired of people always trying to get in my business. Those people need to get a life because I'm living mine."

After participating in the Bengals' offseason program in Cincinnati the last two years, Dillon said he felt it was important to spend this one with his wife and daughter in California. For those criticizing him for not being with the program, he asked, "Where was everybody the last two years when I was in there sweating my butt off and there were just 10 people in the building? I mean, what's more important than your family?"

His teammates seemed unconcerned because as quarterback Jon Kitna said, "He'll be here when it counts. No, I don't think it will be a problem."

Linebacker Adrian Ross is close with Dillon and he's convinced he isn't sending a message. Since Dillon keeps himself in excellent shape (he gained a career-best 1,435 yards despite not appearing until three weeks before the 2000 opener), Ross doesn't see a problem.

"We're working towards a goal and he's a big part of it," Ross said. "He knows that. I know he works because he wouldn't be where he is now. I don't think it's a big deal."

Ross also thinks along with the family obligations, Dillon is thinking about the wear and tear he faces for a seventh season: "He runs the ball and there is a lot passing in a camp like this."

There have been rumblings for months that the Raiders, with the last two picks in the first round, would be a good match for a Dillon trade. But the only way the Bengals could handle the salary cap hit for such a trade would be if Dillon gave back the pro-rated part of his $10.5 million bonus from the five-year, $25 million-plus deal before the 2001 season, All indications Friday were that wouldn't be happening.

Dillon said he's preparing to play for Lewis and the Bengals, yet he made it clear he's upset with the scrutiny. He said it's a major reason he feels like he has to get away from football for a long time in the offseason.

"I wish people would just get off my back," Dillon said. "I wish they would just leave me alone. I'll be there smoking for the mandatory. Smoking mad."

AKILI WAITING: Saturday marks two weeks before the Bengals are to make the No. 1 selection in the NFL Draft, but if Marvin Lewis holds true to his timetable, the Bengals will start negotiating with their choice this coming week.

Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman and the frontrunner, USC quarterback Carson Palmer, are expected to watch practice this weekend. The Bengals will most likely give both physicals, which means they will most likely check Newman's shoulder, which published reports say underwent a re-check in Indianapolis recently. Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich visited last week and underwent a physical.

All of which has a profound affect on backup quarterback Akili Smith. If they start negotiating with one of the quarterbacks, he plans to go to management to ask about his role in the future. If they don't take a quarterback No. 1, or they trade the pick, he says he has been led to believe he's going to stick around for at least this season.

But he is starting to think they may even keep him if they take a quarterback No. 1 because his salary cap count isn't as huge now that he's in the final two years of his deal.

"Maybe they think it will take Carson two years to get ready, I don't know," Smith said Friday. "I may be here, I may be gone. My biggest thing is, once they start negotiations with who ever is going to be the first-round quarterback, then I want to sit down with the organization and just see what they have planned for me."

Smith said if the Bengals take Palmer or Leftwich No. 1, he won't request to be released. He's just looking to make plans and, "looking for them to be open and honest with me. If I'm here, I'm really looking forward to be working with these new guys."

If the Bengals are going to cut Smith, it won't happen until after June 1, so the majority of what's left of his pro-rated $10.8 million bonus is counted against next year's cap."

**

THIS AND THAT:** Long snapper Brad St. Louis missed the morning session because of his grandfather's funeral, but made the afternoon workout. That appeared to make running back Corey Dillon the only player not in camp, but there was no official attendance released. . .

Defensive tackle Oliver Gibson said he expects to be able to participate in the next minicamp in early May as he recovers from a torn Achilles' tendon. . .

Bengals President Mike Brown missed his new coach's first day because he was in Chicago attending the wake of Bears chairman emeritus Ed McCaskey. Also in Chicago was Bengals personnel consultant Bill Tobin, one of the architects of the legendary '85 Bears. . .

BLITZES AND TRAPS: The agent for Neil Rackers thought he would know either way Friday if his client would get an offer sheet from the Seahawks. Word out of Seattle remains there is no interest in Rackers only because they would have to give up a sixth-round pick to get him. But he is on their radar for next year if he doesn't sign a long-term deal in Cincinnati. Agent Rob Roche couldn't be reached Thursday and Friday. . .

Marvin Lewis has been impressed with wide receiver Peter Warrick's off-season work ethic and said, "it was a lot of fun," watching him catching for Leftwich during the quarterback's workout last Monday.

"We have to get the ball in Pete's hands," said Lewis, who wants his offense to go downfield

in the passing game because he knows what causes defensive coordinators headaches.

"We've got a great running back in a great running system," Lewis said, "so it's important that you have to make people defend the entire field. You can't just let them pack in the box and get after us in that way.

"There are things that give defenses problems. When they have to stop this, now they're weak in this area. Let's make sure we have things to attack it." . . .

Lewis welcomed two of his four major defensive free-agent signings in middle linebacker Kevin Hardy and cornerback Tory James. Both have been tied up with family obligations. The Hardys are welcoming a baby and James' wife is attending classes. . .

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