Bengals pursue center

4-4-03, 3:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON Updated:
4-7-03, 8:30 p.m.

One of the agents for Titans center Gennaro DiNapoli said Friday that the Bengals have made his client an offer that shows they are interested in signing him to a long-term deal.

On Monday, agent Howard Shatsky said talks had been pretty much put on hold until the Bengals regroup after the Byron Leftwich workout and said they might get going Tuesday.

The Bengals have been looking to eventually get younger at center and DiNapoli fits the bill. He turns 28 next month, and he's coming off his first season starting all 16 games. But the Titans have also expressed an interest in re-signing DiNapoli after releasing him last month for salary-cap reasons.

The 6-3, 287-pound DiNapoli helped the Titans into this past AFC championship game with a running attack that featured Eddie George's 1,165 yards and a No. 11 ranking in the NFL. DiNapoli also anchored an offensive line that allowed just 21 sacks, third fewest in the NFL.

It helps that DiNapoli's agents, such as the Maryland-based Shatsky, knows Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis well. Lewis, who has coached in Baltimore and Washington the past seven years, has spoken with Shatsky this week. The Titans couldn't handle DiNapoli's $1 million roster bonus for this year, but they also couldn't get a new five-year deal with him last week when Tony Agnone, his other agent, met with Titans' officials in Nashville.

"He thinks the Bengals are a good place to be and that they're a team that's going places with Marvin there," Shatsky said.

Incumbent center Rich Braham, who turns 33 in the middle of the upcoming season, became a Bengal in the middle of his rookie year in 1994 off waivers. He arrived as a guard, but has earned his reputation as one of the toughest Bengals ever at center for the past four seasons.

After winning the club's Ed Block Courage award in 2001, Braham came back last season and didn't miss a start because of Oct. 15 arthroscopic surgery to remove loose bodies from his left elbow. The only game he missed came Dec. 1 against Baltimore because of a left ankle sprain.

He's a free agent, but the Bengals have a right of first refusal. If they sign DiNapoli, it would most likely end Braham's Cincinnati career with 100 career starts, 44 at left guard and 56 at center.

The Titans liked what DiNapoli did for them last year and are still pursuing him, but after failing to sign him last week, they turned to Tom Ackerman. DiNapoli came to Tennessee in a 2000 pre-season trade from Oakland for a conditional seventh-round pick. The Raiders took him in the fourth round out of Virginia Tech in 1998.

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NFL EUROPE OPENS:** NFL Europe kicks off this weekend with Bengals linebackers Dwayne Levels and Tito Rodriguez playing for FC Barcelona and cornerback Tierre Sams working for the Rhein Fire. The openers won't be seen on FoxSports Ohio because of Reds baseball, but can be seen on Direct TV Saturday at 1 p.m. (Barcelona at Frankfort) and Sunday at 10 a.m. with Berlin at Scotland. April 12, next Saturday, FoxSports Ohio shows Barcelona at Amsterdam at 4:30 p.m.

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STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE:** As tough as the Bengals' schedule looks, it's smack in the middle of the NFL. It's the 16th hardest in the league, according to the NFL office. Bengal foes had a .508 winning percentage, according to the NFL. But it's the toughest slate in the AFC North. Defending champion Pittsburgh is tied for 26th at .473, and the Ravens and Browns are tied for 21st at .480. The league's hardest? The Cowboys, Jets, and Eagles all at .541. The weakest? Arizona and Seattle at .443.

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DRAFT SHOW:** Later this month, local television stations plan to air an hour show devoted to the Bengals' preparation for the draft. "The Draft Show," set for April 23 on Channel 5 in Cincinnati and Channel 2 in Dayton, Ohio, provides insight into the top prospects, a behind-the-scenes trip leading up to the draft, a look at some of the off-season changes, and an exclusive feature with new coach Marvin Lewis. Channel 5 airs the show at 7 p.m. with Channel 2 showing it at 8 p.m.

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DILLON OPENS TOURNEY:** Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis plans to help christen the first annual Corey Dillon Foundation Celebrity Golf Classic on Monday, May 19. Dillon, the Bengals' all-time leading rusher, hosts the tourney at Traditions Golf Club in Hebron, Ky.

Proceeds from the event will help to fund the many Foundation programs, CISE (Catholic Inner-City Schools Education Fund), St. Aloysius Orphanage, as well as provide assistance to at-risk youth in the Greater Cincinnati area. Dillon is to be joined by many current and former Bengals, such as quarterback Jon Kitna, linebacker Brian Simmons, and former offensive lineman Dave Lapham, the club's radio analyst. Other figures from the local world of sports, entertainment, and media are expected. For additional information, contact the event management staff from playlikethepros at 859.331.7529 ext 12 for details, or visit the foundation online at www.coreydillon.org.

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