Bengals tackling options

3-21-01, 10:40 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

With the Bengals still trying to lure Todd Steussie or Ross Verba to play left tackle, the club has begun inquiring about other tackles on the free-agent market.

Agent Ralph Cindrich said Wednesday he talked to Cincinnati about Tampa Bay right tackle Jerry Wunsch and Chargers guard-tackle Ben Coleman.

After returning to his Minnesota home from his trip to visit the Cleveland Browns, Steussie told CNNSI.com he expected an offer from the Broncos Wednesday night. He also said the Bengals have given him an early, initial offer.

Starting Monday, Steussie visited the three teams with the most room under the NFL salary cap in Cincinnati, Denver and Cleveland. But it's believed to be a decision between the Bengals and Broncos, since the Browns are toying with other options, such as picking up Tony Jones.

Meanwhile, Cindrich has been running the names of Wuncsh and Coleman past the Bengals since free-agency began three weeks ago. That's when the club unsuccessfully negotiated with him for Denver backup quarterback Gus Frerotte.

At that time, Tampa Bay had expressed interest in re-signing Wunsch. But the Bucs got wrapped up with Brad Johnson, Ryan Leaf, and Simeon Rice and now Wunsch is done waiting.

"He wants to move on now out of that situation and start looking to make a deal elsewhere, so he's interested," Cindrich said. "Ben has some offers out there, but I know he'd definitely be interested in Cincinnati."

The 6-6, 340-pound Wunsch, 27, is seen as a prototype physical run-blocking right tackle. The 6-5, 330-pound Coleman, who turns 30 in May, has played every line position but center during stints with the Cardinals, Jaguars and Chargers. After a solid 16-game season at left tackle in San Diego, he's visited the Lions and Giants.

"We are not totally satisfied with our left tackle play. We're not totally satisfied with the line's depth," said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of college/pro personnel.

"We've been talking to two guys who don't seem to be ready to make a deal quickly, although we have high regard for them," Lippincott said. "We don't want to drag this out, so we're going to talk to some of the others out there and see what can be done."

Wunsch is seen only as a right tackle and Coleman has been primarily a guard. But Lippincott wouldn't rule out putting either on the left side, since they feel it's probably an upgrade after Rod Jones' struggles last season. The Bengals love John Jackson's reliability in protecting the passer. But since he's 36, they're not sure he can play all 16 games.

"We had something like 37 fumbles and lost 23," Lippincott said. "And a lot of them came on the back side of the rush (with Jones in the lineup), and we're looking to get better in any way."

Right tackle Willie Anderson has said he'd be looking for a $1 to $2 million hike in salary if the Bengals moved him from right to left tackle.

Verba, who wants to be a left tackle, has visited Seattle. But the Seahawks would most likely have to put him at guard since they have two first-round tackles in Walter Jones and Chris McIntosh.

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FEEL A DRAFT:** Speaking of left tackles, the Bengals were in Austin, Texas Wednesday getting wowed by Leonard Davis at the University of Texas' workout for NFL scouts.

After conferring with offensive line coach Paul Alexander via cell phone, Lippincott said the 6-5, 370-pound man mountain Davis soothed some fears that cropped up at last month's scouting combine in Indianapolis.

At Indy, some thought Davis looked lethargic in getting beat to the outside in some drills. In fact, there are some teams like the Browns who think he's too big and not quick enough to handle the speed rushers and see him as a right tackle

But the Bengals liked what they saw and compared Davis' work ethic on Wednesday to the way Michigan guard Steve Hutchinson impressed the scouts at Indy.

"At the combine, his effort and intensity was questioned, but not today," Lippincott said. "Paul said the way he attacked the workout with zeal and enthusiasm was gorgeous. Plus, all his times were the same from the combine, except his time in the (20-yard) shuttle was actually faster."

The Bengals were also impressed with the workout at Purdue of quarterback Drew Brees. His footwork, vision, and feel in the pocket continue to win praise from quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson.

If you want Brees, better take him early. Avid viewers of the workout were Chiefs president Carl Peterson and head coach Dick Vermeil, owners of the draft's 12th pick.

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