Bengals play it safe with ready Gibson

6-9-03, 10:10 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Defensive tackle Oliver Gibson felt like he could practice Monday, but the doctors didn't agree and didn't clear him for the three-day minicamp.

"Am I disappointed? Yep," Gibson said. "Am I going to let it deter my training? Nope. They told me they want to get it as right as possible and I assume that's the rationale."

Gibson is about seven months and a week removed from the surgery that repaired the Achilles' tendon he tore in Baltimore last Nov. 10. For about the last two months, he has been pushing sleds, running hard, and insisting he's ready. But because it's such a delicate injury, particularly for a 300-pounder, the Bengals figure they'll buy the seven more weeks until training camp opens with a July 28 practice.

By not clearing him until camp, it does give the Bengals a few more options with their roster if he's not ready to go right away at Georgetown. They could put him on a reserve list if he isn't ready by the time they cut to 65 and 53 players, but no one is saying he won't be ready by then. They just don't see why they have to rush him back.

"We don't need to have Oliver ready," said head coach Marvin Lewis of July 28. "We get a chance to have a little mulligan with Oliver as long as we need to. If we want him to, I think he's got a great opportunity to be (ready). We'll see where he is."

While Lewis played it coy, Gibson insisted he's ready now and will be July 28.

"One hundred percent I'll be ready for training camp," Gibson said. "I hate to say it, but I've been playing for nine years and I know what it takes to get into shape physically and mentally."

His rehab has helped him get into the best shape of his career since the 1996 season, his second year in the league with the Steelers at age 24. He said he weighed in Monday

at 309 pounds and expects to be under just 300 for training camp. This from a guy who is usually at around 318 pounds at this point in the offseason.

"As far as the actual physiology of my Achilles, yeah, it gets a little sore after I work out," Gibson said. "But I had tendonitis before and it felt worse than this. The problem is, you can't duplicate a double team. You can duplicate taking off on the pass rush, but you can't duplicate stopping the run. It's just something we're going to have to wait on until training camp."

Since last month's minicamp, Gibson has been able to virtually mirror everything his teammates are doing except the constant pushing and shoving against the offensive line. He has, however, been pushing 180-pound trainer Billy Brooks all around southwest Ohio.

"He's beating the hell out of Billy," Lewis said. "When we put him out there, we want to make sure he's able to push and shove off like a 300-pounder against a 300-pounder. But we won't need to rush him. Training camp is a long time."

The Bengals paid Titans 26-year-old defensive tackle John Thornton $5 million up front in free agency to make sure they wouldn't have to rush the 31-year-old Gibson back, and he's been penciled in to start on the line next to Tony Williams while Gibson rehabs.

But Lewis knows Gibson thinks he's ready.'

"He's chomping at the bit," Lewis said. "He saw the doctor this morning and I'm sure if the doctor shows up tomorrow morning he'll see him again."

But Gibson is apparently going to get the same cautionary tale until late July at the earliest.

"We'll evaluate and see," Lewis said.

BLITZES AND BLOCKS: The Bengals released reserve cornerback Bo Jennings after Monday's first practice of minicamp. Jennings, who played in nine games last season before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee, had recently returned to practice. He had nine tackles on defense as well as 12 on special teams last year, his first full season with the club after being picked up from the Lions' practice squad during the 2001 season. . .

Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who injured his wrist in last month's minicamp, no longer has a cast and is participating in individual drills but is not working with the team. . .

Quarterback Shane Matthews, who joined the team last Tuesday, took a handful of snaps in team Monday morning with a mix of runs and passes. . .

The agent for former Bengals quarterback Akili Smith said his client is to meet with Jets' officials in

New Jersey Monday and Tuesday before heading to Green Bay, and then on to New Orleans. Kennard McGuire said Monday that Smith wants to make all the trips before he makes a decision.

The Jets don't appear to be a good match. They have a solid No. 1 in Chad Pennington and a solid No. 2 in Vinny Testaverde, and they drafted Wisconsin's Brooks Bollinger in the sixth round. But McGuire said it has nothing to do with names and numbers, and there is no deadline.

"It's not about the money," McGuire said. "If it was, we probably already would have made a decision. What he's looking for is the right situation with the right coaching and the right mentoring. I want him to look at all the people he's dealing with on these trips right in the eye and get a good feel for the situation before making a decision."

The Jets have been talking about keeping four quarterbacks.

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