Bengals keep active

3-16-01, 5:55 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Some topics bubbling with the NFL Draft five weeks away from Saturday:

_With the Bengals intent on getting a left tackle in free agency, they continued talks with former Viking Todd Steussie Friday in preparation for his visit Monday. But according to linebacker Levon Kirkland's agent, the club is far from a deal with his client.

_The Bengals agreed with former Dallas and Carolina kicker Richie Cunningham to a two-year deal Friday to provide camp competition for second-year man Neil Rackers.

_In Akili Smith's first workout of the year earlier this week, Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson emphasized ball security after Smith fumbled 14 times in 2000.

_The Bengals were impressed with Michigan wide receiver David Terrell's speed in the 40-yard dash at the school's pro day in Ann Arbor and remains a candidate to be taken with the draft's fourth pick. But after watching Rod Gardner's workout at Clemson Thursday, Bengals receivers coach Steve Mooshagian sees a guy climbing up the board.

With Cowboys receiver James McKnight signing in Miami Thursday night, the Bengals are headed to choosing a receiver on the first day of the draft.

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STEUSSIE FACTOR: The Bengals figure to talk to Steussie's agents Monday and hope they can get something done with Leigh Steinberg and David Dunn. They are also Corey Dillon's agents and although the Bengals would like to talk about that contract, there has been no indication from either side that's happened yet.

Reports have Steussie visiting Denver after Cincinnati.

Mason Ashe, Kirkland's agent, said there's a huge gap between the club and his client.

"The expression of adulation for him during his visit wasn't at the same level when it came to talking numbers ," Ashe said.

Reports out of Miami had McKnight, a South Florida native, signing a five-year deal in which the Dolphins came up from their original $7 million offer. In Cincinnati, McKnight was a favorite of former Seattle counterparts Jon Kitna and Bob Bratkowski. But the Bengals got out of the bidding when they couldn't get a quick deal and re-focused on left tackle. At 29, McKnight wouldn't have got such a long deal with the Bengals.

HAPPY DAYS? Cunningham comes to the Bengals following a season the Panthers cut him in mid-year after not letting him try a field goal longer than 39 yards. He was 5-for-7 with a long of 39, but he also missed a 27-yarder, had a 25-yarder blocked, and struggled on kickoffs.

Still, Cunningham, 30, had a terrific rookie season for the Cowboys in 1997 when he hit 92 percent of his 37 tries, and then came back in '98 to hit all but one of his 11 attempts from between 40 and 49 yards.

But since then, he's 4-for-10 between 40 and 49. The Bengals continue to profess faith in Rackers, their sixth-round pick last year. But they also need an upgrade from last season, when he was 2-for-7 between 40 and 49 and a combined 7-for-16 between 30-49.

With a new and improved field set to be installed this spring at PBS and a season under his belt, the Bengals believe Rackers will bounce back.

BALL SECURITY: When Smith threw for the first time with his receivers this week, the discussion concerned point of emphasis instead of the release point.

"Ball security in the pocket," Anderson said. "We're emphasizing the need to prevent the quarterback fumbles."

That's because Smith suffered 14 fumbles last season, many of them caused when he was hit from his blind side, or while he was moving around in the pocket. Smith likes to cock the ball at his ear before releasing it. So Anderson worked on him slightly lowering the ball to about shoulder level before getting rid of it.

"That way, you can keep two hands on the ball," Anderson said. "If the ball is held that high up and you have to move, one hand is going to come off the ball. If it's lower, it's easier to keep two hands on it at all times."

FAST LANE: The consensus of the reports coming out of Ann Arbor Friday are that Terrell ran 4.48 seconds in his 40-yard dash at Michigan's workout.

That's good news for a player who went to last month's scouting combine and was found to have a stress fracture in his foot. Mooshagian says the 6-3, 215-pound Terrell is still in the mix for the Bengals. But so is Koren Robinson and Mooshagian scouts him Monday at North Carolina State.

" I don't want to say anything until I can compare them all, but you have to like Terrell's straightaway speed," Mooshagian said. "I really liked the way the Gardner kid ran, too. He ran about the same as Terrell and he's about as big (6-2, 217). He's built solid and he can run. And you can see on tape that he runs past people on long patterns down field. He's got the ability to separate and run away."

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