Bengals quiet on market

6-13-04, 10:10 p.m.

Updated: 6-14-04, 10:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

At least for now, with one week of voluntary workouts remaining and the first practice of training camp 47 days away, the Bengals aren't jumping back into the free-agent market.

The agent for former Steelers linebacker Jason Gildon said he has had only preliminary talks with the Bengals and that his client is headed to Buffalo for a visit.

With the Daryl Gardener deal seemingly stalled for the duration over health questions and not contract details, the Bengals sound like they are set until they head to Georgetown.

"Too early to tell, too preliminary," said Peter Schaffer, Gildon's agent, of Cincinnati's

possible interest.

Schaffer, who is also the agent for Bengals running back Rudi Johnson, sounded like he had other clubs who are legitimately interested. Before visiting the Bills, Gildon went to Green Bay.

Although the 250-pound Gildon has 77 career sacks and was drafted in the third round in 1994 when Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis coached the Steelers linebackers, it just doesn't seem to be a fit. Gildon, who turns 32 that first practice of training camp, has been a 3-4 linebacker his entire career and the Bengals are a 4-3 team that just drafted two 225-pound linebackers in the third round.

Lewis seemed to doom the Gardener deal on Sunday when he said, "We never said a certain defensive tackle was arriving. We get to make decisions all the time and we'll make the best decision for our football team. There's no decision to be made. We're fine."

The Bengals could give some of that money to Johnson as the start of a long-term deal, but Schaffer said he hasn't heard anything on that front.

CENTERING THE RUN: The Bengals are literally trying to run out of the gate when the NFL season opens Sept. 12 against the Jets. Running the ball has become a premium for a team trying to take the heat off quarterback Carson Palmer in his first pro start.

Plus, the Bengals wonder what would have happened if they ran the ball as effectively as they did in the season's last 11 games (a 145-yard per game average in a 7-4 finish) as they did in the first five games, when they averaged 77 yards while going 1-4.

Right tackle Willie Anderson thinks it's going to happen and his main reason is center Rich Braham. On Sunday, he offered a quick history lesson on where the running game was a year ago at this time. But the 6-5, 340-pound Anderson also offered a sneak peek into the future, declaring he thinks 6-4, 340-pound Bobbie Williams might be more powerful than him.

The Bengals had moved right guard Mike Goff to center, next to rookie left guard Eric Steinbach, with Braham backing up Goff. The Bengals backed off the experiment after the regular season opened with a loss to Denver when they returned to Braham. Then after emphasizing the running game during the bye week following the 1-4 start and the elevation of Rudi Johnson to starting running back, the Bengals got out of the woods.

Did head coach Marvin Lewis hint Sunday that some running backs who maybe aren't here any longer didn't always run in the right spots when he said, "Having our running backs be on the right track all the time that helps. We'll be a better football team in a lot of areas that way,"?

Anderson, who played in the Pro Bowl this past year with Jets center Kevin Mawae and Broncos center Tom Nalen, now has the ability to make some comparisons.

"Richie is the same way those guys are," Anderson said. "Those guys put everybody else in position so they can go play. Anytime you have a rookie guard, you need a center who wants to make every call like Richie. He wants to make every call. So he calms everything down, and just lets a guy like Steinbach use his athletic ability and just play. Our goal is to come out of the gate running the ball the way we did. Having Richie in there is going to be a huge impact for us."

Talk about a huge impact. Williams, the free agent from the Eagles, has been working with Anderson at right guard in what many see as a potentially devastating run blocking tandem. Anderson himself has been "amazed," at how much power Williams has.

"He's more powerful than I am," Anderson said. "When he hits his guy. . .I haven't really played with guys my size that strong and powerful, so when he hits his guy, I kind of sit back and say, 'Damn.' Usually, it's me hitting a guy like that, but now when you get a chance to see somebody besides you hit a guy like that, you say, 'Gol-lee.'"

Another reason the Bengals have to run the ball? They have to beat their division foes, and last year they averaged just 87 yards on the ground against Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cleveland, and 146.3 against everyone else. They haven't had a 100-yard rusher in nine straight division games.

**

SUNDAY SLICES:** QB Jon Kitna was excused from minicamp for personal reasons, which the club indicated was to attend a graduation. . .RB Rudi Johnson sat out the afternoon practice with a tight quad. TEs Tony Stewart and Matt Schobel, WRs Peter Warrick and Patrick Johnson, CB Reggie Myles, and DT Norris McCleary also sat out one or both sessions with various nicks that aren't expected to keep them from the first training camp practice on July 31. . .

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis had some kind words for some of his rookies, including each drafted defensive back in cornerbacks Keiwan Ratliff and Greg

Brooks and safety Madieu Williams.

"I was really pleased with Maurice Mann," said Lewis of the fifth-round receiver. "I don't know if he knows exactly what he's doing all the time, but he's playing with great speed. . .We'll find out in five or six weeks how tough he is when it comes to blocking. . .(Linebacker) Landon Johnson made a lot of progress this week. (Linebacker) Caleb (Miller) continues to have a lot of things thrown at him and he continues to progress. (Defensive tackle) Matthias Askew has started to get a feel for what is going on. How you have to play. Getting his shoulders down, playing lower. Now we have to transform that when we have pads on. . . .I think we'll have a group of guys that can make or break themselves by how they play, and that's what you want to have."

**

MADIEU MANIA:** Second-round pick Madieu Williams' versatility came as advertised and now the Maryland safety is right in the thick of the fight to be the Bengals' nickel cornerback in passing situations. The appearance of Dennis Weathersby at Saturday's morning practice served as a reminder that the job of third corner was probably his to lose. But now it is a tight scrum involving Williams, fellow second-rounder Keiwan Ratliff, and veteran Terrell Roberts. Down the road, you could also see

veterans Deltha O'Neal and Reggie Myles, and sixth-rounder Greg Brooks also get that shot at playing the nickel in the slot. Playing corner isn't a problem for the 6-1, 193-pound Williams, but doing it inside has been an adjustment.

"I did it at Maryland, but it was always on the outside," Williams said. "That's easier than the slot because you've got the sidelines helping you. Doing it in man (coverage) has been OK. That's always the same. But it's the zone I need to learn . The receivers know how to work off the nickel and linebackers and I have to work on watching the quarterback's eyes."

Secondary coach Kevin Coyle has given Williams an equal number of reps in one-one drills with the cornerbacks playing outside, but not in team situations. Coyle now has two defensive backs with similar flexibility in Williams and Kevin Kaesviharn.

"When he's clear exactly what his technique is and what his reads are, he can play very, very fast," Coyle said. "He's an interesting guy because he's got excellent feet, really good skills athletically and good ball sense."

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