Bengals keep stalking line

7-11-01, 6:05 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

With training camp just nine days away, the Bengals think it's a good time to make a run at some solid veteran free agents still squeezed out of a tight market.

Which is why they have scheduled a physical Friday for former Tampa Bay defensive end Chidi Ahanotu. Also, the team cleared some roster room for signings today, by releasing three players..rookie free agents Duke Pettijohn (LB) and Chris Rosier (WR), and first year free agent Jason Gavadza (TE).

They also spent Wednesday negotiating with the agent for Colts defensive tackle Bernard Whittington, but agent David Levine said he had yet to negotiate with the Bears late Wednesday afternoon after his client spent the day at Chicago's facility.

"Signing one won't preclude us from signing the other," said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of college/pro personnel. "The only thing you can say is that the best four guys are going to play. Ahanotu is an experienced guy out on the end who has been productive, is strong against the run, and has some pass-rush skills for a top ten defense. We've admired the guy a long time."

Ahanotu, who turns 31 early in the season, already played a major role in the Bengals' offseason plans

when he got cut from Tampa Bay the day before last April's draft.

Up to 90 minutes before the draft on Saturday morning, Bengals vice president Paul Brown tried to strike a deal for Ahanotu that most likely would have brought Florida left tackle Kenyatta Walker to Cincinnati with the fourth pick instead of Missouri defensive end Justin Smith.

But the deal snagged when the Bengals reportedly weren't looking to spend between $2 to $3 million per year. With the season so close, money might not be as much of a factor.

Lippincott indicated the Bengals would like to wrap up Ahanotu before he makes a trip next week to an undisclosed team.

Ahanotu has played eight seasons and started all 16 games for the Bucs last year, when he had 3.5 sacks for the NFL's ninth-best defense.

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