4-14-03, 5 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman may be the media underdog in the derby to be the No. 1 draft pick. But don't tell the Bengals that. They have high regard for his versatility, character, and personality and the feeling is mutual after he visited Paul Brown Stadium Sunday.
"He would love to play there. He was very impressed with Marvin (Lewis) and from what he saw at practice today, he was excited how the defense fit him," said David Ware, Newman's agent. ""He thinks they're putting together something special there."
The Bengals didn't make Newman and USC quarterback Carson Palmer available to the media Sunday, but they are free to talk to any player about a contract at any time before they have to pick by April 26. Lewis has said he wants to start talking this week, and Ware thinks they will have a decision by mid week.
But he thinks the Bengals will negotiate with only one player at a time.
"A couple of years ago, Cleveland (talked to more than one) and last year, Houston only talked to one," Ware said. "I don't think they'll talk to more than one because that means they're looking for the best deal and not the best player and I don't think that's what Marvin wants to do. I think he wants the best player."
But Lewis also, no doubt, doesn't want to get gouged on what is going to be a very expensive contract as it is. If last year's No. 1, Texans quarterback David Carr, hits all his escalators, the contract is worth $58 million over seven years or $47 million over six. An option bonus (spread over a year) gave him $14 million guaranteed.
Those numbers suggest that they can only draft a quarterback, but there are those inside the Bengals and around the league who think Newman is the best player on the board.Yet there are also those who think he's too small to put in the Charles Woodson-Champ Bailey category at 5-10, 188 pounds. Ware reiterated Sunday night that he has been told by the top ten teams picking that Newman's re-check on an old shoulder injury doesn't have them worried, including the Bengals.
Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons covets Newman, even if he is a Kansas grad: "He's the kind of guy that can not only return a punt, but on the next series he can go down field and cover the punt." And Newman not only sat in on defensive meetings Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, but he also attended the meeting for "gunners," the outside players who cover punts.
Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson ran up to Newman on the sidelines during the morning practice and challenged him to cover him right then and there. Johnson said it was something along the lines of, "Let's not wait until the draft. Let's go on the field right now."
Bengals President Mike Brown took turns talking to Palmer and Newman on the sidelines, and both spent time during the two practices talking to the Brown family and personnel officials. Brown had met Palmer at the Senior Bowl and talked with him at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. But Ware said it was the first time he was able to visit with Newman.
Both players have made huge impressions as people and that goes a long way with Lewis, a coach who would rather get the most out of a good guy than have to battle to get less out of a not-so great human being. Lewis recalled Sunday the best meeting he ever had with a prospect, a 5.5-hour dinner with Chad Brown. Lewis ended up coaching him as the Steelers linebackers coach after he was convinced of Brown's sincerity and "we've been joined at the hip ever since."
Ware said there was no problem that it worked out Newman and Palmer visited at the same time.
"He hasn't been the only player visiting at the other teams he's been to," Ware said. "It's not like he's competing against just Carson. He's competing against everyone in the draft. That wasn't a problem at all."
RACKERS SIGNS:** The Bengals signed kicker Neil Rackers to a one-year deal Tuesday, a week after he auditioned for the Seahawks in Seattle. Rackers, who was a restricted free agent, is coming off the best of his three seasons with a .833 field-goal percentage (15-for-18) that was seventh best in the NFL. Rackers, signing for what is believed to be $605,000, is the club's lone kicker now that Travis Dorsch is exclusively a punter. In last season's opener, he hit a 54-yarder, the second longest in Bengals history.
CAMP I OVER:** With the end of minicamp Sunday, the Bengals continue to have offseason workouts this week and next week before having a post-draft voluntary minicamp May 2-5. Their mandatory mini is June 9-11.
MACHINE MAN: Maybe in Terence Newman's honor Sunday, special teams got a long look Sunday with Neil Rackers looking quite accurate on his field goals and special teams coach Darrin Simmons unveiling his new jugs machine that can sky punts into the air. The new jugs is just one of the many pieces of equipment the Lewis regime has put on the field, including a dummy quarterback for the defensive line, complete with a football strapped to the side that can be punched out.
Returner Peter Warrick said it was the first time he ever caught punts from a machine, but he continues to become very comfortable with what Simmons is teaching after a season he lost
his return job largely because he couldn't catch punts cleanly.
"For the last week, he's been telling me some great things. I've learned a lot," Warrick said. "A lot of times, I would look up, see the ball, run over under it, and then have to move back under it when it moved. But he's telling me if I know it's going to move back to where I am, don't get under it in the first place. Get to the spot you know it's going to go."
Warrick said the ball moves more off a punter's foot, but punter Nick Harris likes the idea of saving his leg every so often while Simmons can get exactly what he wants to work on out of the machine. On Sunday, the jugs were set for an average hang time of 4.4 seconds, and that looked easier than it was because assistant equipment manager Jeff Brickner has worked with Simmons during the offseason to get the settings right.
"You can save the punter's legs and put the ball exactly where you want to," Simmons said. "You can put it in the middle of the field, the left hash, the sidelines, wherever, and you can teach certain techniques and certain situations and you can duplicate it time after time. Plus, it's rapid fire, it's like hitting off a batting machine."
Simmons has wasted no time implementing his teachings. The punt team members spent the weekend getting used to putting their inside legs back in their stances instead of the outside leg. And before the punter kicked the ball on punt coverage, they had to fall to the ground, get back up, and cover the kick.
"I think that was to make it seem like we were coming off blocks," said running back Brandon Bennett. "It gets us into the same kind of mind set. It gets you into the same kind of game speed. It's close to what you have to do in a game."
CJ VS. TJ:** Cornerback Tory James, one of the key free-agent pickups, and wide receiver Chad Johnson got to know each other in spirited fashion during the weekend. Johnson, of course, jaws good-naturedly with anyone who has a jaw, and he went at it pretty good with James, a seven-year veteran who had the receivers raving about his ability to pin them at the line of scrimmage with his strength. Of course, Johnson wouldn't say James was tying him up at the line.
"I was telling him he's got help behind him. Let's go one-on-one," said Johnson with his usual smile. But Johnson admitted that, "
The DBs are in our face more this year. Last year, they kind of backed off a lot of times. They seem to be more up on the line this year. It looks like Tory can run really well."
Which is what James noticed right away about Johnson. That and the chattering.
"He fast. He's always talking," James said. "I don't mind it. He's competitive and it keeps you on your toes, keeps the competition going. Every team needs to have a guy like that."
Marvin Lewis thinks James will help a third-year guy like Johnson. James was one of the few guys Lewis didn't have to say much to during the six practices, validating his reasons for getting a solid player and solid guy from a successful team like the AFC champion Raiders.
"I'm pleased with what Tory has done in this camp," Lewis said. "Just his approach to the game. You know about three quarters of it, and that other quarter he met. I'm so excited with his practice habits, his tempo in practice. I don't think I had to prompt him on at all. That was great. We have to keep that in everybody."
Lewis loves Johnson's enthusiasm and physical skills, but he also wants him to work on the little things and, "channel all that energy to also be a better learner." Which is why he'll want Johnson to go back and study the tape of this minicamp "and build on it until the next (one)."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Marvin Lewis ended his first minicamp Sunday as head coach continuing to pound home his theme of becoming more professional. Check out his takes on quarterback Jon Kitna and defensive end Reinard Wilson.
Kitna: "We have to get other guys' professional level up to his and we'll be in good shape."
Wilson: "We have to teach Reinard to continue to elevate himself as a pro. I think he's making those strides that way.
"A professional player wants to win. These guys are at the point anything you say has legitimacy to them," Lewis said. "We've tried a different direction. . .I think they're all buying into it together right now. They're all together, they're on time, they're diligent, they're detailed and these are all things we're getting done. They've been outstanding in the offseason thus far . . a lot of good people.
"We have to get better at those fundamentals, at the foundation of what we're doing. You can always build on that, always add to that. Tweak it here and there. We have to be able to take that and play somebody in the parking lot if that's what it takes." . . .
Cornerback Artrell Hawkins had an interception in the afternoon after bruising his knee where he had arthroscopic surgery two months ago: "Perfect day," Hawkins said. "Sit out the morning, come back and get a pick." Hawkins is Lewis' kind of guy because he can run, and isn't afraid to tackle: "Artrell has a lot of ability." . . .
Lewis praised the work of Travis Dorsch in his first camp exclusively as a punter, but said it's too early to size up the race between him and Nick Harris because Dorsch has been at Purdue finishing his degree and Harris is working every day with special teams coach Darrin Simmons: "You can see (Dorsch) is working extremely hard there and that will be a good competiton." . . .
In the Cory Hall Revolving Door at safety, Mark Roman and Marquand Manuel took snaps with the first team at free and strong, respectively, but defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said even before camp, "There is no depth chart because it doesn't mean anything now." Lewis said he was pleased with the work of the safeties, primarily because there weren't as many mistakes in the last four practices as there were in the first two. . .