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Brewer finding stride

7-31-02, 7:30 p.m.


GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ This is why the Bengals drafted San Jose State tight end Sean Brewer in the third round in 2001.


The ball is in the red zone. The defense is playing Cover 2. Brewer sees the opening in the middle, jets to the proper angle, and catches a touchdown pass running toward the goal post.

"I love to stretch the middle ," Brewer said, yes, wearing shoulder pads and the missing-in-action No. 88. "My legs are getting a little juice right now and I'm trying to take it deep. I want to show them I've got the speed down the middle."

After a shaky first couple of days ("I was absolutely horrified," said one Bengal insider), Brewer is emerging the way the club had hoped. Which is No. 1 on the depth chart. His speed and knowledge of the offense are helping him pull away from a field that includes this year's third round pick in Matt Schobel.

Of course, even the fact he made it through his sixth straight practice Wednesday is news. That's something he never did last year, when he got a concussion early in camp and missed a day or two and then a few days later suffered a season-ending groin injury.

"Canute (Curtis) is the guy who gets on me about that," Brewer said. "I walked into the training room to get something for my shoes today and he was saying, 'Can't stay in here, can't stay in here.' I just get ice for my legs and get taped and get the hell out as soon as possible. I don't want to be in there for long."

Brewer attributes his early problems

to "first-day jitters." Here is a guy who had been out of football for 50 weeks trying to play the two-way position of tight end.

"Brewer has had a good couple of days," said Duke Tobin, the Bengals director of player personnel. "He's got a lot of quickness at the line of scrimmage, and he's caught the ball away from his body in a crowd. He's playing more confidently."

Brewer is knocking on a lot of wood these days. Yes, he did play in last's year's intrasquad scrimmage, and all he remembers is that Scott Mitchell was the quarterback and of about nine plays, one was a pass that came nowhere near him.

"The scrimmage means a lot," said Brewer of Saturday's intrasquad game. "I want to solidify this job."


JACKSON ON MEND:** Left tackle John Jackson surfaced Wednesday for the first time since Monday's angiogram cleared him of any heart problems. He's still tender from the catheter that was inserted to conduct the exam, but he knows it could be a lot worse after the doctors probed to see if there was any blockage of his heart.

"I was nervous. Who wouldn't be? But I had a lot of people praying for me," Jackson said. "I did some light work this morning and then went back to sleep. I'll gradually pick it up in the next few days."

Jackson, 37, has no qualms about

returning to the field or heavy physical stress. The angiogram satisfied him that he won't be at risk.

"I'm ready to play football," he said.

Well, not right away. He still has about two weeks of healing in front of him. But he isn't out of the mind of the offensive line. When he went to Wednesday morning's meeting, he discovered a JJ film festival.

"John Jackson is one of the great guys ever at sustaining a block," said offensive line coach Paul Alexander. "We were trying to explain, but it's hard to and Willie (Anderson) said, 'It must be old man's strength.' So we watched cutups of John Jackson this moring sustaining blocks."

FREROTTE's DAY: Backup quarterback Gus Frerotte took his most first-team snaps of camp Wednesday, but offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said it's merely a natural progression of the derby rather than an evaluation of the previous five practices.

"I figure it just has to happen because if it's going to be 50-50, I'm going to be playing with these guys in the scrimmage and (pre-season) games," Frerotte said. "They have to get used to the sound of my voice and what I'm doing. I'm pretty sure that's all there is to it."

While Frerotte has been the casual observer's top quarterback of the first six practices based merely on arm strength, the club is going to end up basing most of the derby on the pre-season games.

"We're doing it for the fairness aspect of it," Bratkowski said. "He needs some time with these guys so we can evaluate fairly. But he has been getting snaps with them all camp anyway because of the rotation."

SIGN OF TIME: Thursday night's first of four night practices gets underway at 7:30 with an autograph session at 7.

CHECKS AND AUDIBLES: Speaking of the scrimmage, it's about time. Wednesday afternoon featured the chippiest practice of camp as the offense traded words and shoves. There were no big blowups (middle linebacker Brian Simmons and strong safety JoJuan Armour had a curious scuffle with left guard Matt O'Dwyer), but head coach Dick LeBeau appeared to diffuse it when he called

them up in a huddle in the middle of practice to tell them to knock it off.

It escalated when running back Corey Dillon felt the defenders were hitting the back of his legs and he challenged, "If you want to practice, let's go live."

"It was good in a great way. I wouldn't take anything away from what happened out there today," said defensive captain Takeo Spikes. "The best thing about it was we came off so fast at the end and they kept their composure.

"On offense, you can't get in a heat of battle talk. You've got to keep your composure and stay single-minded with each other to be successful on offense and they did that. They creased us on two, three, maybe four runs."

As the scoring stats will show, that hasn't often been the case in the past four years or so.

"I think the offense is playing more together right now," Spikes said. "They're playing together, they're playing real synchronized football." . . .

Veteran left defensive end Eric Ogbogu had a setback Wednesday after impressing everyone with his intensity and quickness in his first practices since coming over from the Jets as an unrestricted free agent. He could be out for as much as a week after straining a calf. . .

WR Ron Dugans missed Wednesday with tendonitis in both Achilles. . .CB Artrell Hawkins (knee) rested his sprained posterior cruciate ligament for the second straight day. . .Spikes (hamstring), DE Reinard Wilson (groin), DT Oliver Gibson (shoulder), DE Vaughn Booker (general rest) all returned Wednesday. . .

The balloons at the front desk were for rookie FS Lamont Thompson's 24th birthday, which was Tuesday. . .QB Gus Frerotte celebrated a quieter 31st birthday Wednesday.

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