Bengals serve youth

1-22-01, 7:00 p.m. Updated:
1-23-01, 1: 10 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

MOBILE, Ala. _ In an effort to protect younger players, the Bengals put two familiar veterans on Tuesday's expansion list in tight end Tony McGee and backup left tackle John Jackson.

Also made available to the Houston Texans for next month's draft is three younger backup players in tackle Jamain Stephens, defensive end Jevon Langford and rookie linebacker Riall Johnson.

Jackson, 37, said Tuesday night he will play a 15th season no matter what happens, but it's doubtful the Texans will pick him up because of his age. Yet, he has a great reputation as a locker room presence.

''I'm excited to be on the list and if they take me, I'll go,'' Jackson said. "If not, I look forward to coming back to the Bengals.''

Jackson, the Cincinnati prep product from Woodward High School who signed with his hometown team before the 2000 season, didn't start a game for the first time since his rookie year last year.

The one eye-raiser on the list is McGee, the only starter on the list and the only tight end on the roster with more than two NFL starts. McGee, who has started 134 games since the Bengals drafted him in the second round in

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1993, turns 31 in April. That, combined with one year left on a contract that counts $1.8 million against the salary cap, may be too much for the Texans to spend on a player who has finished the last two seasons on injured reserve with a combined 40 catches.

But he's a player the Bengals value highly personally and professionally and would like to return.

"We don't want to lose any one and the only reason we put Tony on there was for salary cap reasons," said Katie Blackburn, the Bengals executive vice president. "He has a big number and it would help us with the cap if he was taken. He's been a good player for us and he's a good guy."

McGee, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery about three weeks ago, expects to be back running in two weeks.

McGee said Tuesday night he's not sure what it means about his future with the club.

"It's business," McGee said. "I don't take it personally. I'm just going to get healthy. I'm not going to worry about anything I can't control. I don't really want to speculate on going to Houston because it might not happen."

The 6-6, 350-pound Stephens, 28, a former No. 1 pick of the Steelers in 1996, has been behind right tackle Willie Anderson since he joined the club off waivers early in 1999 training camp. He played tight end frequently in the last month of this season after McGee got hurt and the Bengals have toyed with him at guard.

Langford, who turns 28 next month, has been trying to gain regular time since being drafted in the fourth round in 1996. He was active for three games this past season after a newsworthy offseason in which he boxed in two heavyweight bouts before the Bengals asked him to stop.

"The Bengals have indicated they wouldn't mind if he continues to box in the offseason," said agent Peter Schaffer, on hand Tuesday here at the Senior Bowl workouts. "I think they saw what we saw. He was in the best shape of his life and it was a type of motivation for him. He'd like to stay in Cincinnati. He's bought a home there, but I'm sure it would be an exciting situation in Houston."

Johnson, a sixth-round pick out of Stanford, was active for seven games in one of the NFL's deepest linebacking corps.

The draft is set for Feb. 18 (ESPN, 2 p.m.) and the Bengals will be allowed to take one player off the list if one is drafted. If another player is drafted, the Bengals can take back their two remaining players.

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