Bigger catch in '01?

7-26-01, 9:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ **A look at how the Bengals' corps of wide receivers stacks up before Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage, one of the steps in determining if the Bengals keep five or six.

LOCKS:** Chad Johnson, Darnay Scott, Peter Warrick.

NEXT THREE: Ron Dugans, Danny Farmer, T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

ON THE BUBBLE: Damon Griffin, Malcolm Johnson, Chad Plummer, Craig Yeast.

PRACTICE SQUAD FODDER: Ramondo North.

Darnay Scott looked to answer the position's biggest question of training camp Thursday when he found his infamous "second-gear,'' speed and scored touchdowns on four bombs during 7-on-7 and regular scrimmage as he continues his comeback from last camp's broken leg.

"And a pass interference call," said quarterback Jon Kitna. "He only broke his leg, he didn't tear any ligaments. A lot of guys can run, but there's not a lot guys who, when the ball is in the air, its theirs. That's the difference with him."

Kitna, who threw to Joey Galloway in Seattle, says Scott is the best all-round receiver he's had and has been impressed by his routes during the film sessions with offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.

"Brat will be making a point and then Darnay comes up and runs a route and Brat says, 'That's what I'm talking about,' and the young guys are starting to do it. He's an awesome leader for these young guys."

And there are a lot of young guys. Of the 11 receivers on the roster, only Scott has more than three years experience. Only Scott, Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans have caught an NFL touchdown pass. After Scott and Warrick, there are only 77 NFL catches on the roster.

Yet there is literally big optimism when it comes to one of the Bengals' weakest positions last season. They are turning away from the smaller receivers and looking at size, which is a major reason seventh-rounder T.J. Houshmandzadeh is a virtual lock, Malcolm Johnson is getting a long look on his third club in three years, and veterans Craig Yeast and Damon Griffin are on the bubble.

"Houshmandzadeh runs terrific routes," said Jim

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Lippincott, the club's director of pro/college personnel. "He's a very polished receiver for a guy his age."

The 6-1, 197-pound Houshmandzadeh ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash in virtual obscurity when he and Oregon State teammate Chad Johnson worked out for a small group of scouts in their hometown of Los Angels that included Bengals receivers coach Steve Mooshagian. The only other position coaches present were from San Diego and Tampa Bay, plus a couple of scouts.

"I think they were there to see Chad," Houshmandzadeh said. "But we were close. I beat him and he beat me. I ran 4.3s and I thought that would get me into the third or fourth round. That was my mindset going into the draft and I'm mad about it, but you move on. I'm here now and not everybody gets drafted."

Mooshagian said he did a good job keeping his mouth shut that Houshmandzadeh didn't run slower than a 4.38 in L.A. after scouts converted his 4.48 at the Oregon State workout to 4.58 because of the conditions.

"He's a natural returner on kickoffs and punts and that along with his size and speed made him a no-brainer in the seventh round," Mooshagian said.

If Houshmandzadeh is running No. 4, then Danny Farmer and Ron Dugans look to be running 5-6, or 6-5, depending on who you ask. Chad Plummer's athleticism has turned some heads, but the 6-3, 215-pound Farmer's smarts and the 6-2, 205-pound Dugans' work on special teams last year look to be giving them edges.

"I wasn't a big Farmer fan when I came to camp, but he's been very impressive," said one Bengals official. "He's a smart kid and he catches everything you throw at him. The only problem is that he's a void on special teams."

"I haven't seen Danny Farmer drop a ball," said head coach Dick LeBeau.

Dugans, who struggled last year when he was thrust into the starting lineup following Scott's injury, has quietly plowed along. He may make the fewest mental mistakes of the group and he has caught mostly everything his way.

Malcolm Johnson, 6-5, 215, has a fan in Bratkowski, but they would like to see him more consistent catching the ball. The 5-7, 165-pound Yeast and the 5-9, 185-pound Griffin, are good players who no longer look to fit the dimensions of Bratkowski's philosophy.

"I've been telling anybody who will listen that one to eight, this is the deepest bunch I've been around," Kitna said. "There is going to be some talent cut."

Chad Johnson, the highly-regarded second-rounder, has been as advertised with his outstanding speed. And Warrick, finally comfortable in his pro position in the slot with Scott and Chad Johnson on the outside, has looked more relaxed this camp.

"I'm a slasher in the middle, not a burner on the outside," said Warrick, whose 51 catches last season were second among rookie wideouts. "With Darnay and Chad separating, I can do my thing in the middle."

What was so important about Scott's play on Thursday is that the Bengals' brass could see that he appears to be as fast as Chad Johnson.

"It was shades of '99 today," said Mooshagian of Scott's first 1,000-yard season. "It's a different kind of fast. Darnay has the technique and the power. Chad has that quick explosion."

When asked if Scott still had his pre-injury burst, cornerback Tom Carter and free safety Darryl Williams giggled like school girls.

"When he runs away from guys like that all day," Carter said, "you know he's still got it."

Or as cornerback Artrell Hawkins said, "When you're fast, you're fast. I don't think he's lost a step at all."

Scott said he woke up Thursday on a cool, rainy morning and felt refreshed after the siege of 90-degree days.

"It was cool. My legs were back. I've got my wind back," Scott said. "That's how it was. That's how it's going to be."

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