Bengals in end game

5-12-03, 7:50 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals could be close to adding the highest-rated defensive lineman on the free-agent market as their talks escalated Monday with Chiefs defensive end Duane Clemons.

According to Drew Rosenhaus, Clemons' agent, negotiations, "have intensified, we've made progress, and we hope to talk to the team again tomorrow."

Rosenhaus said he's talking to other teams, but he also said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier have made an impressive pitch.

"It's amazing how one guy can turn things around," Rosenhaus said. "You can't have too many defensive ends and this is a club that's appealing to Duane. I'm excited to talk to the Bengals again."

The 6-5, 280-pound Clemons turns 29 in 11 days. He had two sacks last season and has 35 for a career in which he has been viewed largely as a rush end since the Vikings took him in the first round in 1996 out of California with the 16th pick.

Clemons would become the club's career sack leader on the defensive line if he signs, but at this point the Bengals probably see him as a guy who can play both ends in what is emerging as a line rotation. Clemons has started 59 games, including all 16 last year, and has played at least 12 games in all seven of his seasons. Rosenhaus said his client is simply looking for a niche in which he can contribute regularly for a good team.

"He's a long-time starter who has been a very good pass rusher down through the years," Rosenhaus said. He's a versatile guy who can help a team in a lot of ways."

The Bengals are apparently still looking for both types of ends who can stop the run on the left side where Carl Powell is currently the starter, and on the right side with Justin Smith. Reinard Wilson, who went from nine sacks to none last year, is getting looked at both spots. Eric Ogbogu, who played in 12 games last year, has been working behind Smith. The other two ends are rookies in seventh-round pick Elton Patterson out of Central Florida and college free agent Ja'Waren Blair from East Carolina.

The Bengals have been looking at Clemons since March, when he visited early in free agency. They had a brief flirtation with Cowboys defensive end Peppi Zellner, but the Bengals have apparently been more intrigued with Clemons rather than Zellner, a fourth-round pick in 1999 who has started sparingly. Agent Frank Murtha had set up a visit for Zellner to Cincinnati Monday, but Murtha said his client didn't make the visit. Zellner agreed to terms with Washington Monday.

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