Bengals line up without Jones

6-7-01, 5:25 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

For Rod Jones, it was just like when he came out of Kansas five years ago. The NFL teams most interested in his services were the Bengals and Rams.

But this time, the Rams won out Thursday when Jones opted to take a one-year deal in St. Louis instead of return to Cincinnati for two years.

Jones, the Bengals' Opening Day left tackle the past two seasons, got cut last week when it became clear he wasn't going to move past Richmond Webb and John Jackson on the depth chart.

Mark Bartelstein, Jones' agent, wouldn't divulge money. He said the Bengals' offer, "at the end of the day was probably a little more," but the fact it was for two years and that St. Louis offered a change of scenery carried the day.

"I think it's tough to go back to a place where you were once the starter and be a backup," Bartelstein said.

Bartelstein said Jones also got some up-front money from the Rams, something the Bengals most likely

wouldn't have offered after giving him $2.5 million to sign a year and a half ago.

"A two-year deal made more sense to us because we think at this point in Rod's career he would have to develop at a new position," said Bengals scout Duke Tobin. "To help us and to make our team, he'd have to be able to play right tackle or guard.

"To take a player and develop him at a new position, you want some reward in the back year," Tobin said. "We wish him well. If he plays like he did two years ago, he has a chance to help them."

Jones, projected for the Rams as the swing man backing up left tackle Orlando Pace and right tackle Ryan Tucker, played well enough two years ago for the Bengals to sign him to a three-year, $9 million deal. But he played so badly last year that he lost his starting job to Jackson in the seventh game of the season.

Jones, 27, is currently at about 330 pounds, about 20 pounds lighter than last year, and he looked to have regained his quickness during last month's workouts before the Bengals cut him.

"We didn't know if he could have backed up at guard or right tackle until we put on the pads," Tobin said. "If he could have done it, it might have afforded us the luxury of keeping one less offensive lineman. But if you go into season with four tackles you're comfortable playing with, you're going to be all right."

The Bengals are happy with Webb and right tackle Willie Anderson as their starters and Jackson and Jamain Stephens as their backups, respectively. The club has been told by those who have seen Webb play in Miami that he traditionally puts on weight over the offseason and that should be able to lose his 15-20 pounds and be effective at training camp.

With Jones out of the picture, it appears veterans Scott Rehberg, a guard, and Mike Doughty, a tackle, are dueling with first-year center Roger Roesler for the final roster spot if the Bengals keep 10 linemen.

There appear to be nine favorites, counting the four tackles. They join centers Rich Braham and Brock Gutierrez, starting guards Matt O'Dwyer and Mike Goff, and fifth-round Victor Leyva as the leading candidates going into training camp.

"You need two solid centers and we've been able to play with Brock when Richie has been hurt," Tobin said. "Plus, he's valuable because he has also played guard."

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