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Burris questionable

11-21-02, 11:45 p.m.


The tests are negative and the MRI scan is clear, but Bengals cornerback Jeff Burris keeps getting those kind of headaches that knock you to your knees, drive you to a floor in a dark room, and last as long as a movie.

After suffering another episode Thursday morning that sent him home from practice, Burris has been downgraded to questionable for Sunday's game in Pittsburgh. On Wednesday, he had progressed far enough to practice, which had been quite an accomplishment considering how the day began.

"I started to get one driving in," Burris said after Wednesday's practice. "And all I could think about was getting in here so I could just lie down. I went into the training room, shut off the lights, and just got down on the floor. I didn't even want to lie down on the sofa. I just wanted the floor."

Burris said he's passed enough tests that it's believed he's not in danger and the headaches are not thought to be football-related.

"They're classified as cluster headaches," Burris said. "Migraines that come in clusters. Now it's a matter of getting them under control,

but it is scary. It's the kind of headaches that prevent you from every day functions."

Burris says he's had them for about two weeks and they can last up to two hours. He's had them at all hours, often at about two in the morning, waking him out of a sound sleep. When it happens during the day, he can't play with his kids or talk to his wife. All he can manage to do is to find a dark space.

If he can play, he'll play, but right now, he's happy when he gets an hour pain free, although lately he's only been getting one a day. He was ready to play last Sunday, but the medication didn't come through and he only played sparingly in the first quarter.

But he's confident he'll find the right mix of medication and be back soon. And he does want to get back even though the season that began so brightly when he signed a three-year, free-agent contract back in March has dimmed to 1-9.

"I still think this team has the talent that can go the playoffs," Burris said. "I'm not going to second guess that. We've got a lot of things that you need. We've had some setbacks, but we've got the rest of this year and two more years to hopefully get this thing turned around."

Burris, 30, has immediately become one of the more popular Bengals in his third NFL stop. He's one of the leaders of the Friday Bible Study group and he's the club's NFL Players Association representative.

"The way I look at it," Burris said, "I've been blessed to be around guys who enjoy playing the game no matter the adversity."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Leave it to Joe Germaine to wait for Ohio State-Michigan week to make his Bengals' debut. Sort of.

With Akili Smith sidelined with a tender shoulder, Germaine, a practice squad quarterback, took his first team snaps Thursday when he took Smith's few reps at No. 3.

"It's the first time here I took

snaps from center and I had to get used to the cadence,' said Germaine, who was signed last month. "It's just a matter of putting everything together. I've been throwing, so my arm is fine."

Germaine, of course, has a keen eye on his undefeated Buckeyes against Michigan Saturday in Columbus. That's where Germaine directed Ohio State's win over the Wolverines his senior season of 1998, a feeling in football that's hard to match.

"It's a different week than any other week during the season," Germaine said. "Especially for the fans. It's almost like they'd rather go .500 and beat Michigan instead of going 11-1 and losing that game. To win it our senior year was a great thrill."

As for this year's edition: "I've never been one to make predictions." . .

Although Smith has been throwing sparingly in practice, he thinks he tweaked his shoulder with combination of a long pass on Wednesday and overdoing some lifting of weights. He says he could be back as soon as Friday. . .

Backup running back Brandon Bennett has a shot at some kick-return glory this season.

"Tell me what the deal is," Bennett said. "People keep coming up to me and telling me, but I don't pay attention to any of the stats."

Here's the deal. Bennett is less than a yard from AFC leader Travis Minor of Miami. Bennett has a 25.5 average on 38 returns, which means he's on pace to break Deacon Turner's club record of 55 in 1979. He's also on pace to break Tremain Mack's record of 1,382 yards in a season with 1,550, but has to go a ways for Mack's record 27.1 average. Of course, if he runs back a second return for a touchdown this season, that might do it.

"With the guys I got blocking for me," Bennett said, "anything can happen. They're really been doing a job. I'm just taking off and running."

There are some things that could be in his favor. Free-agent kicker Jeff Reed is making his NFL debut for the Steelers. And, "If it's cold, the ball might not be going that far."

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