Both sides fear no deal

8-30-01, 6:10 p.m.

Updated: 8-31-01, 5:15 a.m.

Updated: 8-31-01, 3:50 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

After failing to strike a deal for Justin Smith despite raising his signing bonus to more than LaDainian Tomlinson's bonus, the Bengals are uncertain they can ever get a deal for their first-round draft choice.

And Jim Steiner agrees with the club that a deal may never get done for his client.

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"It's a possibility," Steiner said.

Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn also indicated the offer might decrease if the holdout continues to the Sept. 9 start of the regular season.

"As it sits right now, it doesn't look like something that can get done," said Blackburn after each side rejected the other's ideas Thursday.

"Once the regular season starts, you have to look at things differently and, honestly, I never thought he wouldn't be here for the regular season. It's something that we have to look at."

Steiner called downsizing the deal, "not logical.

"If we haven't taken a deal up to now, why would we take less?" Steiner asked.

Neither side would go into specifics.

Steiner is looking for a slot deal in his client's No. 4 spot in both money and structure. The Bengals say their split bonus offer is now more than Tomlinson's $10.5 million, although unlike the Tomlinson deal the second portion isn't guaranteed.

But that doesn't look to be the sticking point. The Bengals are apparently standing firm in their reluctance to give Smith the one-time triggers that Tomlinson has at No. 5 and Warren has at No. 3, which escalate the last three years of salaries into the $5-8 million per year range.

The Bengals have said they want to tie the escalators to more than play time and to more than one trigger for a deal that can max out at $40 million, which is more than Tomlinson's $38 million and less than Warren's $44 million.

INJURY UPDATE: As feared, a MRI showed backup linebacker Armegis Spearman is out for the season with a completely torn pectoral muscle. Spearman a free-agent from Mississippi, was the only undrafted player on the 2000 " Football News," All-Rookie team.

Trainer Paul Sparling said Friday that Spearman is set for surgery Tuesday and needs three to four months to recover. He had been backing up Takeo Spikes on the right outside. . .

Sparling said quarterback Akili Smith is ready to start practicing for the first time since he took a hit on his throwing shoulder Aug. 10 and that the Bengals will gradually work him back into practice when the club resumes workouts Sunday after Saturday's day off. Sparling said the pain of mild tendinitis has "markedly subsided." . . .

Wide receiver Danny Farmer surfaced on crutches with a hyperextended knee Friday and is questionable for the opener. But Farmer says he should be ready in a few days and Sparling said he should be OK in a week or two after a MRI showed no damage.

POPE PERPLEXED: Punter Daniel Pope was stunned when his agent called at noon Friday to tell him the club had claimed another punter just a few days after he had apparently re-claimed the job when the Bengals cut Will Brice.

"I don't know what's going on. I haven't talked to anybody, but I hope to by the time I leave tonight or tomorrow," Pope said after the game. "I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to kick in a full game with all the situations. Get a lot of

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confidence. Just have a good solid game to start the season off."

But Pope ended up getting just two punts. The other four went to rookie Nick Harris, who wasn't just a guy the Bengals blindly swiped off waivers from Denver Thursday.

Harris, the most prolific punter in NCAA Division I history, is a fourth-rounder who was the first punter taken in the draft.

Harris, who had them oohing and aahing in pregame, put two inside the 10 (one got run back to about the 20), but he also got off a wobbly 31-yarder that got returned for 29 yards and the clinching field goal.

But Harris, out of the University of California, had to scoop up Brad St. Louis' low snap to get the punt off.

"I thought I did all right. My first kick, (it) went pretty far and then a bad snap and I caught it, so they know I can play short stop if a bad snap goes back and get it off," Harris said. "Other than that, the last one was low and I should have bombed it anyway (so I would rate it) a pretty average performance. If I'm with this team, I'm (just) going to (try) to improve everything and make the Pro Bowl and help this team win."

Pope, who set a Bengal record last year with 94 punts, wasn't quite sure what hit him.

"I don't know," Pope said. "All I know is I went out on the field and I took the punts when we were backed up and he took the rest."

MONEY PLAY: Backup linebacker Adrian Ross, a day removed from signing a contract extension through 2004 worth $4.3 million, made the defense's play of the night.

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With the Colts trying to set up for a last-play field goal at the end of the first half at the Bengals 35, Ross lined up at end as a nickel pass rusher, and then dropped into his "hook," pass coverage on a zone blitz.

When Colts quarterback Mark Rypien threw behind his receiver, Ross reached back and tipped it to himself for an interception. Then he pitched it back to free safety Chris Carter and Carter got pushed out of bounds at the 50 with four seconds left.

"I knew there wasn't much time left and that I wasn't going to score," Ross said. "I was looking for a DB. I figured I would suck them up if I started running."

Ross got $900,000 to sign his deal, which is going to make some Cincinnati-area computer store happy. Ross, one of the NFL's top players of video football, has a plan.

"I'm going to get the (John) Madden game so I can put it on my computer," Ross said. "I've already got it on PlayStation. I want to put it on my laptop so I can play it on the plane."

THIS AND THAT: Replacement officials worked the game, headed by a crew that had Jim Daopoulos as the umpire. Daopoulos, now a supervisor, worked the Super Bowl as an umpire in Atlanta in January of 1999. Players indicated they thought the officials overall did a good job, although some felt they let them play too much in calling just five penalties for 28 yards. . .

Does backup fullback Clif Groce's second-quarter fumble mean curtains? It was going to be tough for him to make it before Thursday because the three running backs behind Dillon Brandon Bennett, Curtis Keaton and Rudi Johnson have been too good to cut.

And No. 1 fullback Lorenzo Neal had his best game Thursday. He took out a linebacker on Dillon's 87-yard touchdown and took out both safeties on Bennett's eight-yard touchdown run. . .

Looks like the 215-pound Corey Moore experiment as a rush end was just that. After taking him off waivers last week, he took one snap as a rusher and didn't play at all Thursday.

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BARNDT CHARGED: **Barndt, battling for a roster spot on the Bengals' defensive line, has told the club he's embarrassed about being charged with a DUI this past Monday.

In a letter to Eric Ball, the Bengals' director of player development, Barndt attorney Phil Taliaferro said his client had an accident with another car in Covington, Ky. Taliaferro noted the Aug. 26 police report said the other car caused the accident by failing "to yield the right of way," but admitted Barndt had been drinking.

"He is very embarrassed and feels horrible that he let his team down," Taliaferro wrote to Ball. "You are also well aware of how much he

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loves the Bengals and I am confident that this kind of behavior will not happen again because he has learned his lesson. This is the first time that he has been involved with alcohol while driving."

But Barndt still faces a suspension and/or fine from the NFL under the league's alcohol policy. He'll also be put in a rehab program.

Barndt, 29, is looking to hook on with the Bengals after playing last year with mostly one arm in the wake of signing a five-year $11 million deal. Surgery rebuilt his shoulder and he has played better. But it's still not clear if he's played well enough to win a roster spot at the team's most competitive position.

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