1-12-04, 8:25 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals should get a look at some potential first day choices that make up the NFL Draft's first three rounds next week when they coach the North squad at the Senior Bowl.
If his stock keeps skyrocketing, USC cornerback Will Poole could turn out to be a selection with the 17th pick. If the Bengals are seriously considering a running back that high, they'll get a long look at Michigan's Chris Perry.
The North center, Kansas State's Nick Leckey, is one of the best in the nation and could warrant a serious look if he's still there in the second or third rounds. Play-making safeties Bob Sanders of Iowa and Stuart Schweigert of Purdue are trying to play their way into the first round. Oregon State defensive tackle Dwan Edwards is a 305-pound run stopper who is a potential third-round pick.
"And if they can't find anybody they like on defense that they're coaching, they just have to look to the other side on the South," says Jerry Jones, who complies the draft preview book, "The Drugstore List." "It never fails. The teams that coach this game are always heavily influenced by what happens down there that week of practice. They're going to see guys they may like all week on both sides."
For the South, Oklahoma cornerback Derrick Strait could be a potential 17th pick if they like him, and he'll have help from a band of impressive tackles like 325-pound Marcus Tubbs of Texas, another potential top pick who may play.
But it's early. The NFL has yet to release its list of 36 or so juniors that is expected to heavily influence the draft, particularly on the defensive line. Still, during next week's practices in Mobile, Ala., the Bengals are going to be able to get some solid answers on guys who might be able to help them right away.
Draft gurus such as Jones are giving high grades to the 5-11, 190-pound Poole because of his coverage skills, and the marks only went higher when he showed off his versatility with blitzes in the Rose Bowl earlier this month.
Sanders and Schweigert are both heavy hitters. Sanders is an exciting playmaker who caused six fumbles this season and is a run-stopper, but the Bengals and everyone else are trying to figure out if being just 5-8 and 195 pounds is too much of a liability for a high pick. The 6-1, 211-pound Schweigert is trying to show scouts the same tackling range and ball skills from his junior year.
Leckey is listed at 6-3, 310 pounds, and teams want to see exactly how big he plays, but he was impressive against Ohio State's fine defensive front in the Fiesta Bowl. Oregon State's Edwards is an interesting prospect rated highly before the flood of juniors and comes from a school where the Bengals have had good connections in the past (former head coach Dennis Erickson) and from where they have drafted three players (Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Dennis Weathersby) since 2001.
"He's not a fat guy at all and he fits the kind of guy they seem to be looking for," Jones said of Edwards. "He's a guy who is going to stand there and tie up the middle and make sure nothing gets through."
The 6-foot, 220-pound Perry leads the North running backs. Notre Dame's Julius Jones and the 5-10, 228-pound Michael Turner of Northern Illinois, who may remind people of the Bengals' Rudi Johnson, are trying to show they're worthy of the first day. The North fullback is Minnesota's Thomas Tapeh, a 235-pounder who probably projects to a running back with his size and ability to catch the ball. He's another guy looking to show he's first-day talent.
The Bengals won't be looking for a quarterback, but they will be working with some high-profile guys in Michigan's Jon Navarre, Bowling Green's Josh Harris, and Washington's Cody Pickett. Harris is the son of former Bengals Super Bowl tight end M.L. Harris.