4-20-01, 6:10 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander said everyone around Paul Brown Stadium is going to like his newest player, rookie left tackle Levi Jones.
Which is a good thing because no one nationally or locally seemed to like the pick when the Bengals took the 6-5, 310-pounder out of Arizona State. Particularly Mel Kiper Jr., part of the ESPN draft guru board that chortled, "The most entertaining 15 minutes of the NFL Draft is when the Bengals are on the clock."
The pick also eliminated the first-rounder New England had been seeking for quarterback Drew Bledsoe in trade talks that continued dormant Saturday.
Kiper ripped the Bengals for not trading down and getting Jones lower in the round while also getting an extra pick. In their longest stint on the clock in recent memory 11 minutes the Bengals called on one team to do exactly that.
"We have a goodly number of needs," said Bengals President Mike Brown, "which requires a goodly number of picks."
But that club passed. Two other teams called from down below, but the Bengals were leery of trading too far down and losing Jones.
One mock draft had Jones going to Tennessee at No. 14. Giants offensive line coach Jim McNally, at No. 15, had been calling him the best lineman in the draft. The Browns at 16 were reportedly also prepared to take Jones, so the Bengals didn't want to go that deep for a third- or fourth-round pick.
"People are entitled to their opinions, but I'm going to tell you one thing," said Jones from his mother's home in Eloy, Ariz. "I'm going to go in there and play as hard as I can to prove people it was the right pick.
"I don't think what they're taking a closer look at is that there were a lot of teams right behind them at 10 that needed an offensive lineman, left tackle," Jones said. "I think they made a smart move by selecting me."
The Bengals found Kiper's rippage a bit amusing since less than a month before the draft he had Jones going No. 9 to Jacksonville. In his final report, Kiper gave Jones a 9.2 rating, right behind the 9.3 he gave to the two tackles who went ahead of Jones in Texas' Mike Williams and Miami's Bryant McKinnie. His final ranking of 150 players had Jones 16th.
"If his hair was out of place, that meant he was distressed, I guess;" said Bengals President Mike Brown when told the well manicured Kiper had become unglued. "Mel Kiper does a good job at what he does. If he felt that way, he probably had some reason for it. We felt differently and we thought what we did made sense for us."
Alexander shrugged at the bashing.
"Considering Kiper had him going to Jacksonville a few weeks back, I guess it was a steal," Alexander said. "Look, I'm not in this thing to beat the media. I'm in it to defeat Pittsburgh."
Brown continued to throw cold water on the Bledsoe talk, chalking up his $5 million salary as unmanageable under the cap.
"The Bledsoe thing has been dead for some time," Brown said. "But it seemed to have a life of its own outside the building. You can't make deals unless you have cap count room to make deals. We came to a point where we decided we couldn't sit on the sideline indefinitely in the free-agent market. . .I don't think we're in a situation to take a high-priced player."
The Bengals' defensive coaches made their pitches for Miami cornerback Phillip Buchanon, but the club's age at tackle carried the day over a depth need at corner that had been partially met in free agency.
There was no question that if Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington had been there, the Bengals would have grabbed him. The suspense ended early when the Lions took him third, but the Bengals had an inkling before then. On Friday, one of the Bengals' coaches never heard back from Harrington's offensive coordinator after leaving a message.