8-5-02, 11:25 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _In an effort to take care of their future depth at vulnerable positions, the Bengals have approached fullback Lorenzo Neal about extending his contract after this season.
It's also believed they are talking to the club's other fullback, Nick Williams, whose contract is also up after this year. On Monday, the Bengals announced extensions through 2004 for backup center Brock Gutierrez and backup guard Scott Rehberg, cutting the number of potential free agents on the roster from 22 to 20.
The Bengals also continue to talk to the agent for one of the biggest would-be free agents in middle linebacker Brian Simmons. The talks take place face-to-face here Wednesday when Jerrold Colton flies in from Philadelphia to visit training camp. He doesn't view the conversations with club executive vice president Katie Blackburn as a showdown or the final step, but just another stop in negotiations.
"I'm making the trip for a couple of reasons," Colton said Monday. "I like to visit my clients at camp to see how they're doing and get out to see some football. Plus, we've had some conversations and I prefer to talk in person rather than over the phone, so this is a good chance. I don't see the meeting as a knock-down drag out thing. It's just a chance to get together and continue the dialogue."
Neal, heading into his second season in Cincinnati, has talked only briefly with his agent and knows only there is an offer but doesn't know
specifics. The man who has blocked for five straight 1,000-yard runners said he wants to stay for a variety of reasons.
"I'm not looking for $2 million or $1.5 million. I'm not looking to break the bank," said Neal, who figures to make about $800-900,000 this year. "I've got a great job. I'm blocking for the best running back (Corey Dillon) in the league. He makes me look good and I'm just trying to help him look a little better. I like the coaches here. I think I'm well-coached. I'll listen to what they've got. I'd like to stay."
The 5-11, 242-pound Neal doesn't turn 32 until the last week of the regular season and he thinks he can play for the next five years. He's coming off a season in which he was named the NFL's top blocking fullback by at least one national publication and "USA Today," put him on its "All-Joe Team," for tough, unsung performers for the second time.
"When I can't dominate any more, I'll step out of the league," Neal said. "As long as my peers see me as one of the best, that's what matters to me. God blessed me with a great body and I'm doing more work with it because you have to do more as you get older.'
Neal, who has been as low as 235 pounds, came to camp slimmer this year and feels much better. It shows. He scored the intrasquad scrimmage's lone touchdown on a six-yard catch and ripped off a six-yard run.
"I feel a little quicker," Neal said. "I worked with a personal trainer and did agility and I can feel that it's helped."
BENGALS SHELVE DORSCH PUNTS:** Saying he was "incredibly discouraged," rookie Travis Dorsch watched Nick Harris take over the Bengals' punting drill in Monday night's practice while he stayed on the sidelines. Special teams coach Al Roberts has asked him not to punt while he focuses on field-goal kicking. Dorsch has admittedly punted better than he's kicked after he followed a tough kicking drill last week by missing a 41-yarder in the scrimmage.
"He's a special kid and right now, in this age of specialization, he needs to specialize," Roberts said. "He's been competing with Neil Rackers on field goals and kick-offs and with Nick Harris in punting and he's been kicking all the time. That's
hard and right now we need three points. Right now, I just want him to understand and see if he can handle it. We've got to have the three points. I think he's an excellent punter, but we've got one now in Nick."
Dorsch says he's "100 percent sure," he'll punt in the NFL, "but I don't know if it's going to be here or not. I can do more than one thing at once. Not this year, maybe not next, but I think I can do both. I've been punting better than I've been kicking, that's for sure."
The Bengals drafted Dorsch in the fourth round in the hopes he would compete with Rackers, the struggling incumbent kicker, on field goals. But Dorsch, who led the Big Ten in both punting and kicking at Purdue last year, had expected to be drafted as a punter and has been sluggish kicking here. Dorsch hit a 51-yarder and a 38-yard punt in the scrimmage, while Harris hit his two 49 and 39 yards.
"I'm incredibly discouraged," Dorsch said. "But (Roberts) is the boss and I'll do what he says."