Changing of the guard

5-3-03, 7:40 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Dan Hoard of Fox 19 couldn't get the words "Mel Kiper, draft expert" out of his microphone before Eric Steinbach broke into a smile wider than the ESPN draft board.

"Draft what?" asked Steinbach, the Iowa guard who was supposed to go in the first round of last weekend's draft.

Kiper is calling Steinbach the steal of the draft after the Bengals took him with the first pick in the second round and head coach Marvin Lewis must agree because he has turned his offensive line upside down to make Steinbach the starting left guard for the time being and the lone first-team rookie at a minicamp that began Friday.

Lewis admitted moving right guard Mike Goff to center and left guard Matt O'Dwyer to right guard, putting Steinbach at his All-American left guard spot, and making incumbent center Rich Braham a backup at all three is "more fluid than set." But he also said Steinbach is expected to become one of the Bengals' better players and the best way for players to flourish is "not putting square pegs into round holes."

So the 6-6, 300-pound Steinbach gets the nod at left guard, his position under Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, an old coaching colleague in Baltimore with Lewis when he was the Ravens offensive line coach.

"Coach Lewis reminds me of him," Steinbach said. "The way they go over their points is really similar. It's exciting what Coach Lewis is doing, he's hired some good people and brought in some good players.

"At first, I was disappointed I didn't get drafted in the first round," Steinbach said. "But then I was really excited the Bengals got me in the second round."

Steinbach wasn't shook being the only rookie in the starting lineup as would be expected of the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year. He had studied the playbook for the last three days and said he began to get more and more comfortable as the day went on. It probably helped he lined up next to Goff, an old Hawkeye who he had hosted when he came back to visit Iowa City.

Of course, Goff had his own fire to fight. He hasn't played center in a game since the preseason three years ago, but there were no problems with the quarterback-center exchange Friday.

"We didn't have any balls on the ground and that's a very positive sign," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "There's nothing that disrupts a practice like center-quarterback exchange problems and we didn't have any in the two practices and know on wood it will stay that way the rest of camp."

That's not to be taken lightly. The pass from center isn't always a snap. During the 2000 season in Seattle, Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna was part of a guard's conversion to center and ended up leading the NFL in fumbles. He doesn't see any problem like that with Goff, since Goff is constantly asking him how he's doing and if the ball is in the right place.

Plus, Goff has a pretty good mentor in Braham. Braham switched from left guard to center before the 1999 season and no one remembers him missing a beat.

"Footwork," said Braham of the biggest adjustment. As far as knowing the plays, there's not that much difference, I had to know what the guard is dong anyway. At center, your feet are parallel, where at guard they're a little off center."

Goff plans on working out the bugs this weekend, as well as the on-field coaching sessions in the coming weeks.

"At center, you're right on top of the guy," said Goff of the foe. "At guard, you have some room to move. There's going to be adjustments on how to block. We don't have a game tomorrow. We've got time to learn and we're going to get it done. As long as I'm still playing, (the position) doesn't matter."

Braham thinks Goff can do it ("More important, they must think he can do it") with his only real advice keeping his butt down so the quarterback doesn't lose separation with the ball. And that's not as easy as it looks because the feet are parallel.

"I enjoyed center," said Braham, who was back at left guard five years later backing up a rookie. "At first I was a little nervous about always touching the ball. But you're the first guy to the line and you can look at the defense and call things."

**

MINICAMP MUSINGS:** The Bengals know all about fighting perceptions as a team, but quarterback Jon Kitna has some individual misconceptions, starting with wide receiver Peter Warrick.

"The hardest thing to do (is). . .to change that first impression of you," Kitna said. "I think I'd pay close attention to (wide receiver) Peter Warrick this year. He looks really good out there. I think the new strength coaches are doing a great thing for him. He's running well. He's got a great feel for the game now. Three years in the system have really helped him. I think this is going to be a great year for him." . . .

Kitna continues to fight what he feels are the wrong views of his game. The arm-strength knock continues to bug him and he got reminded Friday

when rookie Carson Palmer let a long ball fly.

"After Carson threw a deep ball, it was a little short," Kitna said, imagining the reaction. "Give him another shot. Kitna throws that and it's lack of arm strength." . . .

Some first day standouts: Lewis pointed out guard-tackle Scott Kooistra, a seventh-round pick out of North Carolina: "He was an impressive guy. . .We (may have) found a diamond in the rough." . . .

Third-round pick Kelley Washington also flashed. At 6-3, 220 pounds, the wide receiver from Tennessee is hard to miss, and his hands and speed had some people starting to pencil him into the starting lineup. But wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh reminds people this is a deep field of receivers.

"He's a good player. Big and fast," Houshmandzadeh said. "I think what it does is raises everybody's level and you find out who is going to step up and who isn't going to step."

Washington twisted his ankle in the morning and was held out of the afternoon workout. Wide receiver Danny Farmer tweaked a muscle and also didn't go in the afternoon. . .

Fourth-round pick Dennis Weathersby won't visit this weekend. Everyone feels it's best for him to stay home, since it's only about two weeks from his gun-shot wound. He expects to have the bullet removed soon in what has been described as an out-patient procedure. Head coach Marvin Lewis also raised the possibility of people from the team visiting Weathersby at his suburban Los Angeles home. . .

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