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Case Of Senioritis

If the Bengals repeat history, they'll come out of the Under Armour Senior Bowl later this month with some pretty good players.

Marvin Lewis' second trip in five years to staff the Mobile, Ala., all-star game became official Monday when the North team joined the Bengals coaching staff for the Jan. 24 date against the South.

One player the Bengals will no doubt put under the microscope is Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe, a prospect that has accepted an invitation to play for the North and is so highly ranked it is believed he won't fall past the Bengals picking at No. 6 in April's NFL Draft.

The announcement confirms the Bengals plan little change to their coaching staff in the wake of a 4-11-1 season.

It also commences another whirlwind offseason that begins this month with the scouting of college all-star games and continues next month at the NFL scouting combine before culminating with campus visits and the April 25-26 draft.

Also on the agenda are next month's key decisions regarding expiring contacts and the designation of Franchise and Transition players in preparation for the Feb. 27 start of free agency. If Lewis sticks to last year's calendar, the Bengals tentatively begin their offseason conditioning program March 30.

The 7 p.m. game Saturday at Mobile's Ladd-Peebles Stadium (live on NFL Network) pits Lewis against old coaching colleague Jack Del Rio, head coach of the Jaguars staff that is coaching the South. It is Lewis' third appearance in the game in the past 11 years. As the Ravens defensive coordinator in 1998, he helped coach the South to victory. Del Rio coached under Lewis in Baltimore the next two seasons.

"Coaching in the Senior Bowl was very valuable to us in 2004, and we are excited to once again have this opportunity," Lewis said in a press release. "The top talent is always going to be at this game, and there's nothing like the evaluation you can get from actually coaching these players in practice and game situations.

"The hands-on work you do gives you a great insight into how guys learn and understand. The work at a game like this is very fundamental, but it still can tell you a lot."

Back in the '04 game the North lost, 28-10, the Bengals coached Nebraska's Kyle Larson, a player they ended up signing as a free agent and who has punted for them the past five seasons. This time they'll see one of the nation's top punters in the University of Cincinnati's Kevin Huber, one of four Bearcats named to the game from their 11-3 Orange Bowl team.

"I think I had a higher opinion of Kyle than a lot of guys because I had a chance to work with him that week," said Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons. "Not only from a physical standpoint, but how he reacted to things mentally in meetings and on the field. I saw what we know now. He's very coachable, he cares about it, he's a hard worker.

"These guys have to go into it like it's an extended workout. Even the meetings."

After being able to spend time around the South team and have in-depth interviews with their players, the Bengals ended up taking two defensive backs in the second round in '04, Florida cornerback Keiwan Ratliff and Maryland safety Madieu Williams, and another in the sixth round, Southern Mississippi cornerback Greg Brooks.

"We would have ended up talking to those guys at the combine, anyway, but we got a head start on them in Mobile," said assistant secondary coach Louie Cioffi. "You don't eliminate anybody there or at the combine, but to be able to work with these guys on the field is a big edge for you, and even though the game plan is pretty simple, it gives you an idea of what they'll be able to do during a week of NFL preparation."

The Senior Bowl has a special spot in Bengaldom. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's last act as a Steelers wide receivers coach came in the 2001 game, where he worked with an Oregon State wide receiver named Chad Johnson. Bratkowski then made the move to Cincinnati a few weeks later and got on the table for Johnson during the draft, in large part because of how he dealt with him in the meeting room.

Even though the Bengals won't take Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, another North prospect that has accepted an invite, Bratkowski should have some fun with the former Heisman Trophy hopeful now that he holds the NCAA record for career touchdown passes, 300-yard games, and 400-yard games.

The Bengals are going to be more interested in looking at Michigan State running back Jevon Ringer and Oregon running back Jeremiah Johnson, off his Holiday Bowl-record 76-yard touchdown run.

Also getting eyed is going to be Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew, one of three finalists for the John Mackey Award given to the nation's top tight end.

The North could also be getting some Ohio State players, but they have yet to confirm. Possible Buckeyes are wide receiver Brian Robiske and linebacker Marcus Freeman.

Three and perhaps four more players from Cincinnati's first BCS Bowl run could end up in Mobile. Already accepting invites and joining Huber are offensive lineman Trevor Canfield and defensive backs Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith.

But it looks like another tough one for the North since USC has seceded and joined the South for the week. According to the Under Armour Senior Bowl web site, five players off USC's already-legendary defense are in the fold: linebackers Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews and defensive linemen Fili Moala and Kyle Moore.

The Senior Bowl is as much a job fair as anything else since general managers, coaches and scouts from all over the NFL converge early in the week to watch the most intense practices before it winds down about Thursday. But the Bengals trainers, video crew, and equipment staff spends the full six days assisting their coaches before and during the game.

The Senior Bowl was born in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1950, but has been played annually in Mobile since 1951. The South leads the series, 28-25-3. From 1991-93 the games were played with an AFC vs. NFC format.

The Under Armour Senior Bowl is a non-profit, charitable event which has donated more than $4.5 million in the past 20 years. A look at major offseason dates, some tentative, for the Bengals: **

Jan. 9:Cactus Bowl, Div. II all-star game at Kingsville, Tex.
*Jan. 17:
East-West Shrine Game at Houston, Tex.
Jan. 19-24:North practices and game coached by Bengals staff at Under Armour Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Jan. 31:Texas All-Star Game at El Paso, Tex.
Feb. 5-19:Period teams have to designate Franchise and Transition free agents.
Feb. 18-24:NFL scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind.
Feb. 26:Deadline for teams tendering qualifying offers to their restricted free agents (RFAs).
Feb. 27:First day of free agency and trading period
March 22-25:NFL annual meeting, Dana Point, Calif.
March 30:Going off last season's schedule, tentative start of Bengals offseason conditioning program
April 17:Deadline for RFAs to sign offer sheers
April 25-26: *
Draft Weekend, where Bengals hold the sixth pick in the first round
**May 1-3:
Tentative dates for Bengals rookie minicamp. They have held it the weekend after the draft the past few years
May 12 or May 19:In the recent past the Bengals voluntary workouts have begun on one of these Tuesdays.
Mid June: Tentative Bengals mandatory minicamp. Last year it was held June 12-14.  

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