Brewer begins redemption run

5-8-01, 7:30 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals rookie tight end Sean Brewer always wanted to make "Sports Illustrated." But never like this.

Which is just about right. The Bengals want Brewer to get in the lineup, but not like this.

With the Bengals now back to one healthy fullback with the signing of Lorenzo Neal, they still need some options and one of them could be Brewer in some kind of fullback role.

Can he block?

Can Dick LeBeau dance?

There are club personnel people who feel Brewer is already the Bengals' best blocking tight end.

Dave Baldwin, his head coach at San Jose State, says Brewer is a better blocker than college teammate James Hodgins, who has a shot at being the Rams' fullback.

"He can do that. The kid will do anything that's asked of him," said Baldwin, who used him some at fullback. "Hell, I asked him to play defensive end when he was a sophomore."

After watching Brewer for the past three days, the Bengals are pretty much convinced their third-round draft choice is more coveted than controversial.

With all due respect to the draftnicks.

"He may end up playing period. Somewhere. Somehow," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "He's got good speed. He's a big guy. He can turn his body and twist. He's a natural catcher of the ball. I've seen a lot to like in him."

In fact, the Bengals raved about their seven draft picks after minicamp ended Monday.

"I didn't look at one guy where I asked myself, 'Gee, why did we get him?'" Brown said. "In fact, I found myself saying, 'I'm glad we got him.'"

No. 1 pick Justin Smith didn't wear pads at right defensive end, but his speed had the left tackles buzzing. Seven-time Miami Pro Bowler Richmond Webb compared him to Dolphins' sackmaster Jason Taylor.

"Their speed is similar.

They've got that quickness and he's got more than one rush move," Webb said.

The 6-4, 260-pound Brewer came to Cincinnati from The Valley with more baggage than a Delta connection.

The draft gurus wrote he smoked a pack a day, had a gangsta mentality, ripped his 19 percent body fat, and said he got into confrontations with his college coaching staff.

By the time it had been recycled through the information spin cycle, Brewer and the Bengals appeared in a Sports Illustrated item as some sort of national joke.

"Darn near all of it is," said Brewer, when asked what is the most false thing said about him.

And Baldwin is surprised at the perception the Bengals reached and pulled a guy out of thin air who no one knew about when they took him with the 66th pick.

"That week before the draft, I had to have 10 to 11 teams call me," Baldwin said. "I said at the beginning of the season he would go in the third round and when I got all those calls, that just confirmed it. I thought he would go a little later, but they probably figured he wouldn't be there in the fourth. I commend all the NFL teams who did their homework."

Brewer says there's a little truth in the reports. Maybe his eating and nicotine habits. It looked like he came in at about 265 pounds and they want him at 255.

"There's a little validity to some of the statements, but not my character. I don't know where that came from, and that hurt me," Brewer said. "They don't even know me as a man and they say that stuff."

Actually, Brewer and Baldwin think they know exactly where the reports came from. They think it came from a confrontation Brewer had with San Jose's new strength coach during his junior year.

"There was never any physicalness with any coaches, any alums, anybody," Baldwin said. "I recruited the young man. I've been in the house. He's got a great home life. They live on a country club, for goodness sake. His teammates voted him captain. He did smoke, but if that's the worst thing a 21-year-old kid is doing. . ."

Brewer says his father is the vice president of a Fortune 500 company and they live in Riverside, Calif. He says he's never had a problem with police. He says he no longer smokes, but he is trying to kick chewing tobacco.

"I'm a free spirit. I know that to be the case," Brewer said. "I really don't give a crap about too many things, but don't say this stuff about my character."

Brewer thinks the gangsta rap came from the few times he put corn rows in his hair.

"I corn rowed it and I'm white, so they think I'm gangsta, but I'm the same man," Brewer said. "I came to San Jose with a bald head. They thought I was a Skinhead or something, so when I left I had hair down to the middle of my back. It was getting to the point where it was getting in my eyes, so I put it in corn rows four or five times.

Baldwin figures it also didn't help Brewer that at one point he was driving around a little motorized scooter.

"I read the paper the morning after they drafted him and I looked at my wife and I just couldn't believe it," said Baldwin, now the offensive coordinator at the University of Cincinnati. "I've been trying to set the record straight since. I mean, say he's a different bird, but not that other stuff."

Brewer has short hair now and he's trying to hide that tobacco can because he really is trying to kick the habit. He says his new teammates have said things like, "Man, they're really banging you," but he says they don't put too much stock in it.

The irony here is that after the confrontation in the weight room, he says he had 100 percent attendance in the weight room, and that the coach even had him over to his house for dinner after the incident.

If it is one thing he needs to work on in the NFL, it's spending time developing his body with weights.

"But from what I've seen, he's exactly what we thought he was," said tight ends coach Frank Verducci. "Minicamp is hard to judge because they're not natural, they're thinking too much. But this kid is big, he can move and his hands are solid."

Brewer is already better off in this weight room. During the weekend, new assistant strength coach Rodney Holman pulled Brewer aside. Holman, of course, is the most prolific tight end in Bengals history. And, yes, a third-round pick 20 drafts ago.

"He just wanted me to know I was doing OK and to remember that I was three hours off because of the time change and to hang in there," Brewer said. "That meant a lot to me. When it stops being hectic, I'm looking forward to spending time with that man."

Baldwin remembered one practice at San Jose. They had a wide receiver who could really run, and one day he blew up and was ready to walk off the field.

"Sean walked over to him, put his arm around him, talked to him for a few minutes," Baldwin said. "The kid came back a few minutes later, apologized to players and coaches, and was ready to play."

The way things are going his rookie year, it looks like Brewer is going to be on the field himself.

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