BY GEOFF HOBSON
As if the Bengals don't have enough to worry about on the offensive line, they learned today center Rich Braham must rest his sore knee for the next few games and could need season-ending surgey if it doesn't respond to the break.
Braham missed all four preseason games when his bursa sack was removed and has struggled with the knee ever since. It looks like fourth-year center Brock Gutierrez is to make his first NFL start against the league's second-best run defense.
Left end Vaughn Booker, who also won't play in Baltimore, is still undergoing the scrutiny of doctors as they examine his heart and brain. Booker passed out on the field going back to the huddle late in last Sunday's game and doctors are still looking for a reason. Michael Bankston figures to move into the starting lineup.
Bengals trainer Paul Sparling said Monday the club would give Booker "the Million Dollar Workup," when he returned from Baptist Hospital in Jacksonville. That's where he spent Sunday night and Monday morning undergoing a battery of tests that included an echocardiogram and a stress echocardiogram, which are sonograms that take pictures of the heart. All the tests came back normal, but Sparling said the club's medical staff has never seen an incident where a player passed out on the field without getting hit.
"It's of an uncertain origin," Sparling said. "We're obviously concerned enough about it that we want to get to the bottom of it and make sure there's not an increased risk before we put him back on the field. He understands why we're being very cautious."
Sparling said it's 50-50 for Booker to play this Sunday in Baltimore until he hears back from the doctors.
Booker, 32, the third Bengal in history to play his prep (Taft High School) and college ball (the University of Cincinnati) in the city before joining the club, came over from the Packers during the offseason as a five-year, $11 million free agent.
The Bengals contacted Green Bay today, but the Packers told them Booker suffered nothing more than routine heat exhaustion and this incident wasn't related to heat. And it wasn't related to the slight knee sprain he had early in the game.
"He'll see our internist and he'll set him up with the specialists," Sparling said. "It has to do with the brain or the heart, so what is it?"
ARMEGIS-MANIA:OK, so it wasn't Jeff Blake throwing two long bomb touchdowns against the Super Bowl champion Cowboys. But free-agent rookie Armegis Spearman's first NFL start at middle linebacker Sunday in the 13-0 loss to Jacksonville was quietly as impressive.
In his meticulous stats, linebackers coach Mark Duffner had Spearman for three tackles and eight assists. But the big number was no mental errors, which was huge for a kid who had to take over Brian Simmons' job of reading the signals from defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau on the sidelines.
"He went the next step and was able to get us in the right fronts by virtue of their formation," Duffner said. "He didn't have one mistake and Jacksonville is a multiple shift team with a lot of motion. He did an excellent job of getting us aligned." . . .more
Linebacker Takeo Spikes, who played next to Spearman on the weak side, said the calls during the game turned out to be a breeze.
"It was harder in practice than the game," Spikes said. "So once we got to the game, it was easy. We stayed and watched extra film and talked a lot of stuff outside of the time we weren't around football. Coach LeBeau and the rest of the defensive staff did a good job of mixing it up and giving us all kinds of (offensive) formations, everything possible and they put it in front of our face."
The 6-1, 254-pound Spearman is using quickness, athleticism and intensity to cushion the adjustment from playing at Ole Miss last season to the NFL. He got some help from Spikes on the strength calls if he didn't have time to get back into position.
"That's tough, especially for a young guy," Spearman said. "I kind of know what (quarterback) Akili (Smith) is going through. Kind of."
Coach Bruce Coslet saluted Spearman's poise.
"He made some mistakes, believe me, but he didn't play like a rookie (and) I was very encouraged by that," Coslet said. "You throw him in there, you take Brian Simmons off your defense and throw a rookie free agent in there, it's kind of like 'hang on.' But he held up well. There was no glaring mistakes where he got toasted. . .You throw a kid in there like that and sometimes he's so jittery he can't function. It's too big for him."
Simmons, who had arthroscopic surgery last week for knee cartilage torn off the bone, starts his rehab Tuesday with a best-case return in seven weeks.
THIS AND THAT: Rookie Neil Rackers is still the Bengals kicker despite going 0-for-the-first three field-goal tries of his career. After misses from 44 and 47 yards Sunday, Bengals President Mike Brown and coach Bruce Coslet kept the faith today without giving any indication how long their rope is.
"In practice, he's long, he's straight and he's accurate," Brown said. "He's a young guy who has to get settled."
Coslet said, "I'm going to stay with him until we replace him and I'm not in a rush to do that. You've got to ask yourself what's the alternative. I think he's going to be a hell of a kicker. . .
Rookie receivers Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans are learning the ins and outs of getting off the line of scrimmage. It's not like at Florida State, where they could just run away from people. Coslet isn't all that concerned that Warrick has shown a penchant for dropping easy passes while also making spectacular grabs. The working numbers are three drops in the opener and two Sunday.
"It's not frustrating to me, it's just waiting for a young receiver to get the consistency that he needs to have," Coslet said. "They're so worried about doing the right pattern, the right depth that, 'Oh, I forgot to watch the ball,' the most important part. There's nothing wrong with his hands, believe me. The three drops (in Jacksonville) were really only two because on one he just barely got his longest finger on it." . . .
Linebacker Takeo Spikes is literally nuts about going to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. One of the Bengals shareholders, Dr. Ed Miyawaki, whose parents live in Hawaii, gave Spikes a can of Mauna Loa nuts and when someone asked if he could have a few, Spikes said, "Don't touch it. I'm keeping it right there (on his locker's top shelf) so I can look at it every day as motivation." . . .
KR Tremain Mack (ankle) and LT Rod Jones (shoulder) are probable.