5-27-03, 11:25 a.m.
5-27-03, 10:55 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The fallout of a new coaching staff settled on the Bengals' roster Tuesday when they released two long-time reserves in linebacker Canute Curtis and center Brock Gutierrez, as well as two other veterans.
That's not all the Bengals did because they are apparently looking at all the options revolving around their backup quarterback situation with Akili Smith. The agent for local product and former Vanderbilt quarterback Greg Zolman said his client worked out for the club Tuesday, and a league source outside the team indicated that Todd Husak, last year's All-World quarterback in NFL Europe, also went through the paces at Paul Brown Stadium.
Head coach Marvin Lewis wouldn't confirm the workouts, but said the roster moves that also included the releases of fullback Mike Green and defensive end Eric Ogbogu are a signal.
"What we did today shows we're moving in a different direction," Lewis said. "We want to make this team younger and more athletic in some spots, and provide some opportunity for these guys who are very good people to hopefully get placed on other teams early."
The departures appear to offer hints for what the Bengals are thinking with one minicamp (June 9-11) remaining before the July 27 start of training camp. The release of Green, picked up off waivers from Tennessee last month, indicates the club is pleased with fourth-round pick Jeremi Johnson. The departure of Ogbogu, signed last year from the Jets, comes in response to the free-agent signings of ends Duane Clemons and Carl Powell this offseason.
Lewis has vowed to make moves no matter salary or contract status and that became evident in letting go Curtis and Gutierrez, six-year veterans who signed contract extensions during the last training camp.
The 6-2, 257-pound Curtis, 28, who started 11 games in place of the injured Steve Foley last season at left outside linebacker with a career-high 68 tackles, had been moved inside after six seasons working on the outside. The 6-3, 305-pound Gutierrez, who anchored running back Corey Dillon's NFL-record 278-yard day in 2000, became the odd man out in an interior line shuffle spearheaded by the drafting of Iowa guard Eric Steinbach in the second round.
""I'm not happy, but I certainly understand why they did it and there are no hard feelings," said Gutierrez, a free agent out of Central Michigan who has gone on to play 70 NFL games.
While Gutierrez went home to Michigan this week to prepare for what some told him might happen, Curtis was surprised the call came.
"I didn't see it coming and I don't know why," Curtis said. "But these are the things that happen when you have a coaching change and the new people bring in new players. The Brown family has been very fair to me throughout my career and the No. 1 thing I'm going to miss is not being with the guys."
Curtis started 15 of his 70 games after working his way off two seasons on the practice squad following his sixth-round selection in 1997 out of West Virginia. The move also hints of the makeover on special teams, where Curtis led the Bengals in tackles over the course of 1999-2001.
Lewis has been emphasizing athleticism and Curtis sensed the shift in philosophy a few weeks ago when he talked about his move inside backing up middle linebacker Kevin Hardy, a free-agent pickup. Adrian Ross, who had spent time backing up the middle in previous seasons, took Curtis' spot backing up Foley.
"Adrian and Foley are a little quicker than me and Kev," Curtis said a few weeks ago. "That's the way he's playing them. He's got those guys breaking to the outside, and you have to have guys with speed out there. They kind of bait you to throw it out in the flat, and then they've got those fast linebackers flowing out there to kind of close up that gap and those are the guys that do it better than me and Kev.
"(Last year), I was cutting off the sideline and making them run back inside," Curtis said. "He doesn't want that. He wants speed on the outside. You can't question him. The guy's a great coach. You can see that. I like the middle, personally, you get a chance to make plays on both sides."
Although they were backup players, both Curtis and Gutierrez had a reputation for dependability and each had some big moments in Cincinnati. Gutierrez had the Dillon game, which Curtis, of all people, finished off with a sack of Broncos quarterback Brian Griese. Curtis also jump-started the club's 21-10 upset of the Super Bowl champion Ravens in 2001 when he stole the ball virtually before the pile went down on the second-half kickoff.
"I wish we had some more wins, but those are some nice memories," Curtis said. "I think Marvin is a very, very good coach and we'll see what happens. Everyone knows it comes down to wins and losses and in the end what the weight room looks like isn't going to matter. But you can tell he's a very good coach."
Gutierrez, 29, played in all but one of the last 64 Bengals games. Eight came in place of starting center Rich Braham and seven when the Bengals finished second in NFL rushing in 2000. Since he joined the club for good off the Jaguars' practice squad in 1998 following his free-agent signing with Cincinnati out of Central Michigan in 1996, Gutierrez has been a special teams staple like Curtis. Last year he led the offensive line with 139 special teams snaps.
The Bengals have also talked about getting younger and more athletic in the interior, so Gutierrez became expendable when they signed Braham as a backup guard-center, moved right guard Mike Goff to center, moved left guard Matt O'Dwyer to right, and drafted the 6-6, 295-pound Steinbach, a former tight end, to play left guard.
When Braham was re-signed as a backup a day before this month's minicamp, Gutierrez thought he was seeing some writing on the wall.
"I was just hoping they weren't going to bring me to camp, not give me any snaps, and then cut me when it was too late to get another job," Gutierrez said. "I was hoping they'd have more respect for me than that and the timing is never right for it, but I'm thankful they did it now.
"I wish we could have won more games," Gutierrez said. "I felt like I did my job whenever they called on me. I don't think there's any question that these guys are going to win more games in the next few years. I just hope I'm playing against them. I'd like to keep playing. I don't think I'm ready for the scrap heap yet."
Ogbogu, 27, played for former Bengals defensive coordinator Mark Duffner at the University of Maryland but had a hard time getting on the field last season after he signed a two-year deal following the draft. He played in 12 games after missing the first three pre-season games with a calf injury, with his most work coming on 29 snaps against Jacksonville.
Green, 26, ironically, came from a Tennessee team where he had pretty much replaced Lorenzo Neal as Eddie George's blocking back. Neal is one of two fullbacks the Bengals are trying to replace after the Pro Bowler opted for San Diego in free agency.
The departure of Green leaves the Bengals with three fullbacks and seems to be saying they like the looks of Johnson, the 275-pounder from Western Kentucky whose hands and size has impressed the club during this month's workouts.
Lewis has already said he's been encouraged by the athleticism of the twice transplanted Chris Edmonds. After this month's minicamp, Lewis had put Edmonds ahead of Green, Johnson, and veteran Terry Witherspoon even though he's working on another switch from linebacker to tight end to fullback.
ESPN.com reported that none of the moves could be termed for salary cap reasons, since the releases saved Cincinnati a modest $2.35 million.
When it comes to quarterback, the Bengals still seem to be grappling with what do after Jon Kitna and Carson Palmer. Do they cut Smith after June 1 because of the $1.8 million salary cap hit? Do they keep Smith because of his athleticism even if it's at No. 3? Do they replace Smith with a veteran free-agent like Kent Graham or Jamie Martin so they aren't forced to use Palmer early on? Or do they develop a guy like Zolman or Husak at No. 3 behind Palmer?
Both Zolman and Husak are big guys with good arms who have been around some camps but not in games.
The 6-3, 216-pound Husak, a sixth-round draft pick out of Stanford by the Redskins in 2000, has also worked on practice squads with the Jets and the Broncos in addition to leading Berlin to the World Bowl title last season in Europe. He has completed two of two passes for minus-two yards for his only NFL stats, for Washington in the 2000 finale.
The 6-2, 216-pound Zolman, a Miamisburg, Ohio product who started 37 games at Vanderbilt, has also been with three clubs after signing with the Colts as a free agent last season. He caught on with the Packers and Tampa Bay before he was released when the Buccaneers drafted Chris Simms in the third round last month.
"I knew the minute that happened that it was over," said Zolman, reached a few hours after his workout. "I felt like it was a pretty good fit down there, but they couldn't pass up Simms at that point. I'm OK with (Bucs head coach) Jon Gruden about it, now I'm just looking for an opportunity."
And why not? Agent Eric Metz said his family has had Bengals' season tickets for 30 years and Zolman said (if this doesn't make you feel old) that he first remembers going to games when Boomer Esiason was the quarterback and James Brooks was the running back.
"I think there's somebody else in the family that wants that other ticket," Metz said. "It's a good opportunity for both sides to get a look at each other. Obviously, Gruden was high on him and he's a smart kid with a good arm who just needs a chance."
Zolman said he wasn't surprised when Husak also showed up at the workout. In fact, he was pleased.
"I've worked out for a lot of teams and I've never been the only quarterback working out," Zolman said. "I was at one where there were five quarterbacks. I enjoy it because I like to be able to compare myself with other guys and meet them. I think I did all right today."
Zolman, 24, who is working on his MBA, agreed that the situation comes down to what the Bengals do with Smith.
"All they told me is if they're going to do anything with me, it's going to be in the future," Zolman said. "And that's fine. I'd love to be there."