4-1-04, 7:05 a.m.
4-1-04, 7:05 a.m.
4-1-04, 3:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals got a little younger Thursday when they officially moved right guard Bobbie Williams on to the roster and cut backup offensive lineman Scott Rehberg.
Rehberg, 30, was due to count abut $600,000 under this year's salary cap as an eighth-year player and the Bengals apparently needed some breathing room after bringing on Williams, 27, a free-agent pickup from the Eagles.
The move has nothing to do with the Corey Dillon situation, although one thing the NFL meetings proved earlier this week is that the Bengals and Raiders were mum enough on the subject to telegraph the interest both sides have in such a deal and Draft Day now looks to be the target.
ESPN.com reported there was casual conversation but nothing substantive between the teams in Palm Beach, and Raiders head coach Norv Turner made it clear he would welcome a franchise back like a Dillon.
But head coach Marvin Lewis said in Palm Beach nothing is imminent, and indications are the Raiders won't start clearing cap room to fit Dillon's $3.3 million until they know they can swing a deal. Apparently, they don't want to give up the second-rounder the Bengals want for Dillon.
The Bengals also may be looking for cap room to fit a veteran cornerback. It's believed they have some interest in Denard Walker, cut by the Vikings earlier this week.
Rehberg saw extensive action in three games at three different spots (both tackles and left guard) and made one start when regulars got injured last season. But with the 27-year-old Williams penciled in as the starting right guard and 26-year-old Victor Leyva and 23-year-old Scott Kooistra emerging as backups, the Bengals decided to go with youth. Leyva is an option to back up right tackle and starting left guard Eric Steinbach, who turns 24 this weekend, could be an option as the back-up left tackle.
Rehberg signed with the Bengals as free agent before the 2000 season and provided valuable relief off the bench as an inside player. He started the last five games of the 2000 season at left guard when the Bengals rushed for an average of 154 yards. He also made four starts at left guard in 2001 and of those was when Jon Kitna threw a team- record 68 passes against the Steelers and got sacked only twice. In one of his three starts at right guard in 2002, Corey Dillon rushed for a season-high 164 yards in Indianapolis.
Rehberg becomes the 34th player to be cut or to leave via free agency from the 53-man 2002 Opening Day depth chart.
CASE DISMISSED:** Left tackle Levi Jones had his case dismissed Thursday in Houston, Jones had been arrested for interfering with a police officer outside a club two months ago during a disturbance at a post-Super Bowl party.
"The prosecutor felt that there was insufficient evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt," said Joe Bailey, one of Jones' lawyers.
RUNNING NORTH:** After years of preparing the Ravens for smash-mouth games at the top of the division against Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis believes his club must get stronger and more physical to eject those same Ravens out of the AFC North top spot.
Fact: The Bengals haven't had a 100-yard rusher in nine straight division games.
At gatherings such as these earlier this week at the NFL owners' meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., the North has a small college feel. Everybody, it seems, has worked with everybody. Lewis cut his teeth in Pittsburgh and rose to prominence in Baltimore. New Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is on his second stint in Pittsburgh, sandwiched around 45 games as the Bengals head coach.
The consensus among the division's head coaches is that Baltimore is favored to repeat, so Lewis is plotting against his old team. Why didn't the Bengals pursue Tampa Bay safety John Lynch in free agency? It may have been they were worried how an in-the-box safety could cover a Pro Bowl tight end in Todd Heap.
Lewis is going to have to get a running game going against LeBeau's staff, which produced an AFC champion when Lewis was the Steelers linebackers coach in 1995. The Bengals haven't had a 100-yard day against Pittsburgh since 2000.
"its fun having Dick back around," said Steelers head coach Bill Cowher this week. "It's kind of good getting back to the roots where we started. We think a lot alike."
The Steelers were known as "Blitzburgh," in LeBeau's first term and they hope LeBeau can bring it back. After a 50-sack season two years ago, Pittsburgh dipped to 35 in '03.
"He's like the Energizer Bunny," said Cowher, noting LeBeau's year away from full-time coaching as a Bills' consultant. "Everytime I come back from a trip, he's got more blitzes on my desk for me. We' re not even playing, it's February, and he's ready to install it. He's got a lot of energy."
A split between Cowher and LeBeau after the 1996 season reportedly gave LeBeau the chance to return to Cincinnati, but the two have always denied it publicly.
"He and I would have disagreements. He and I would have arguments, but I think the thing is we have mutual respect," Cowher said. "We've been there from the beginning."
Division matchups are another reason why one team's cap casualty is another team's key pickup. Eagles coach Andy Reid, who drafted new Bengals right guard Bobbie Williams in the second round four years ago, confirmed, "He's a very good run blocker." The Bengals can't wait to team the 320-pound Williams with the 340-pound Willie Anderson on the right side.
"Putting him in the mix with Victor (Leyva) and Scott Kooistra and to have our guys feel they can compete and physically run the football," Lewis said. "It's something we couldn't do last year against those squads. If you can't do that in your own division, how good are you?"
Not good enough to gain half a field on the ground against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland most of the time last year. They barely did it twice, with Rudi Johnson accounting for 51 and 52 yards against the Browns for the best days against the North.
REVENUE STREAM:** The owners voted Tuesday to extend merchandise revenue sharing that gives each team $4 million annually. Bengals President Mike Brown isn't concerned that the 26-3-3 vote reveals serious factions in the bid to get more revenue sharing in the stadium streams that are now not shared.
"It's always a difficult issue to work through," Brown said. "But the vote shows that there is now a broader recognition among the clubs that some type of more revenue sharing is needed."
CHAD WON'T BE BAD:** Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson likes to keep the fans on the edge of their seats with his creative end-zone celebrations. But the NFL owners took away a lot of the tension when they came within one vote of unanimous Wednesday in approving a resolution that automatically penalizes a player 15 yards if he is called for an excessive celebration.
The league's competition committee ruled that when Johnson celebrated a touchdown against the 49ers last year by brandishing a sign, that would incur a 15-yard flag this season.
Johnson, who has said he'll now check with the officials before each game to make sure his act won't draw a flag, was fined three times last year for end-zone antics. One drew a 15-yard penalty because it was interpreted as a throat-slash gesture.
"We think it's time. Look at the number of fines this past year (61) compared to years past," said Bengals President Mike Brown, who was part of the 31-1 landside. " It was getting out of hand. We talked to Chad last year about it and he understood that he had to set a better example. He knows that. Now he'll get his head ripped off by everybody. Players, coaches, the fans. No one wants the penalty."
Before the owners adjourned their annual spring meeting Wednesday morning, they also approved a one-year experiment to expand the practice squad from five to eight players. Head coaches can now call a timeout from the sidelines, there was no vote on changing the overtime format, and the Chiefs withdrew their proposal to expand the playoffs.
If Johnson wants to change his jersey number from 85 to cousin Keyshawn's 19, he can because the owners are now allowing receivers to wear numbers 10-19.
If you won't see Johnson in the end zone with a sign any more, you also won't see guys like Jeff Burris hanging around in the end zone while waiting for a punt to stop rolling. Burris stunned the Rams last year by taking one more than 100 yards. But he also stunned his own teammates because it was called back for having too many men on the field.
The clock is now going to stop when a punt lands untouched in the end zone.