BY GEOFF HOBSON
While the Bengals' beefed-up scouting party prepares for this week's college players combine in Indianapolis, anything still goes on the Bengals' draft board with the fourth pick.
Defensive end? (Hello Justin Smith). Left tackle? (Is that you, Leonard Davis?) Quarterbacks? Even if Michigan wide receiver David Terrell is gone, what about North Carolina State's Koren Robinson?
The Bengals will train the most eyes they've ever had in the RCA Dome's annual cattle call on those top players. As well as the remaining 325 or so players who start reporting Thursday and finish physicals, interviews and workouts next Monday.
The Bengals send their biggest coaching staff ever to Indy with 14 and they will not only need the extra eyes, but the ears.
For the first time the NFL plans to interview all combine players in a response to the off-field problems of the past several years.
But with league security getting 15 minutes of every player's time, teams will be scrambling more than usual to find their 15 minutes of fame.
"That's 31 teams. There's not enough hours in the day," said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel. "Most teams only take five or 10 minutes, but some teams have been known to hide guys on you, or talk to guys forever."
Lippincott isn't a big fan of the interviews because, "they've been coached what to say and they all sound the same." He thinks the best information is mined from campus visits with people who know players best.
Lippincott says the combine's most important function is to reveal a player's health during the teams' exhaustive medical exams. He ranks the interviews and activities (such as the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, shuttle run) a few notches below in importance.
With linebackers coach Mark Duffner replacing head coach Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator, defensive assistant Louie Cioffi is assigned to scout most of the top linebackers.
That leaves Duffner to help scout free-agent backers, defensive linemen and secondary. The Bengals think that makes them stronger scouting because in the past three years Duffner has signed undrafted linebackers Adrian Ross and Armegis Spearman and found them to be productive players in place of injured starters.
Spearman was just named one of three linebackers to the NFL's all-rookie team for "The Football News," joining two guys taken with the top nine picks in the draft in Washington's LaVar Arrington and Chicago's Brian Urlacher. Spearman, out of the University of Mississippi, is the only undrafted player named to the team.
Lippincott said new offensive assistant John Garrett is helping quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson and receivers coach Steve Mooshagian scout their positions.
But with Anderson and new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski focused on staying mainly in Cincinnati this spring to help quarterback Akili Smith and others learn the new offense, Garrett becomes a key scout.
"If there is a college that has both a quarterback and a few receivers, John will probably go to that school," Lippincott said. "But Steve will still go see the top receivers. P> "The extra coaches allows us to keep some of the guys at home to not only work with players, but it also helps keep the head coach and the coordinators close to home to help recruit free agents."
BENGALS STUNNED: The Bengals are reeling from the news that a close friend of the Brown family was one of the civilians on board the U.S.S. Greeneville when the submarine collided with a Japanese fishing boat during a Feb. 9 accident in which nine teenagers and crew members from the Ehime Maru are still missing.
Jack Clary, who co-authored "PB: The Paul Brown Story," with the Bengals' founder in 1979, was on the sub with his wife Pat.
At least one news report said Monday that Clary, 68, was at the helm of the sub during the rapid ascent that ended in the collision nine miles south of Diamond Head in Hawaii.
According to foxnews.com, Clary said he was not controlling the equipment and that civilians were all supervised by crew members.
Clary, of Stow, Mass., visits the Bengals' training camp every summer and still attends a handful of Bengals' games every season. He recently wrote a book on Naval Academy football tradition.
TENDERS OFFERED: The Bengals have tendered the basic one-year offer of $512,000 each to their two restricted free agents, cornerback Artrell Hawkins and linebacker Adrian Ross.
The Bengals can match offers for them, but if they don't they would only get compensation for Hawkins. They would get a second-round pick, the round Hawkins was chosen in 1998. Ross is an undrafted free agent.