1-11-02, 3:25 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
If you want to get primed for this weekend's NFL playoffs with some light warmups Saturday, take a look at the college seniors the Bengals are looking at in the East-West Shrine game.
Don't look for Cincinnati to take any of the players in Saturday's 77th annual matchup in San Francisco (10:30 a.m., local time, 1:30 p.m. EST on ESPN 2)with their 10th pick in the first round. The game lacks top cornerbacks and offensive tackles, but Illinois quarterback Kurt Kittner is a guy they would look at if he's available in the second round.
Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel, returned to Cincinnati Friday with a contingent of mainly defensive coaches who scouted the Shrine game practices. He reiterated the Bengals aren't looking to take another first-round quarterback.
The 6-2, 225-pound Kittner is probably the only player on the East team that falls into the Bengals' consideration in the first three rounds of the April 20-21 NFL Draft.
Safeties Marques Anderson (UCLA) and Lamont Thompson (Washington State) as well as tight ends Doug Jolley (BYU) and Matt Schobel (Texas Christian) are all players on the West Squad the Bengals might consider in the second and third rounds.
Another position the Bengals could consider on the draft's first day is a run-stopping left defensive end. Lippincott likes Minnesota's Greg White of the East, but at 260 pounds he's a bit undersized.
The most highly-rated player in the game is West quarterback Joey Harrington of Oregon. But he won't be there at No. 10 and the Bengals aren't looking for a quarterback there anyway.
Of course, if Kittner plays well in the post-season, he won't there in the second round, either.
"He's decisive, he's accurate and he moves around well enough,"
Lippincott said. "He doesn't look tall, but when you measure him, he's a little over 6-2. His muscle tone makes him look shorter, but he's a 6-2 guy."
It's not easy for quarterbacks to play well in college all-star games because they're working with a different offensive line and receivers. But Kittner cuts a break because the Illini's staff is coaching the game.
The Bengals got banged twice for taking San Jose State tight end Sean Brewer in the third round last year. Once on Draft Day because he went higher than the gurus thought he would, and again when he never played a snap in the preseason or regular season because of an injured groin.
But with Brewer still a rookie, starter Tony McGee heading into the last year of his contract, and backup Marco Battaglia gone, the Bengals probably have to seek tight ends in free agency and the draft. They are looking for another guy in the Brewer mold, which is advertised as an all-around, athletic sort who can run downfield as well as block.
On the East squad, Purdue's Tim Stratton is a prolific college catcher who could go on the first day if he shows teams he can block.
"I really liked Schobel's hands. You couldn't hear the ball when he caught it," Lippincott said. "He's an ex-quarterback and he just runs so well. I like the same things in Jolly, but I don't know if he can run well enough."
The Bengals know they need more safeties who can run with Darryl Williams turning 32 this past Tuesday and Chris Carter no doubt gone to free agency.
Lippincott is intrigued with UCLA's Anderson, a 5-10, 207-pounder. Some scouting books had him listed as a sixth-rounder early, but he has apparently raised his stock with, "toughness. He reads the run, he hits it, he's a good open-field tackler. He's physical and you have to like the fact he's put himself in this position after being unheralded."
The 6-1, 212-pound Johnson missed last season with a neck injury, but he's probably the highest-rated safety in this game. Word is he's a better player in zone coverage, but the Bengals like his size and the fact he has been timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.39 seconds.