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Character the issue

4-22-02, 12:30 a.m. BY GEOFF HOBSON

As Levi Jones went on to the next stop during his whirlwind tour of Paul Brown Stadium, he leaned back to the two secretaries with a 6-6, 310-pound smile and said, "Nice to meet you."

The character issue surfaced so much Sunday that Paul Brown Stadium could have been a stop in a presidential primary. When the 2002 draft was over, the only skeleton that could be found in the closets of Cincinnati's six draft picks was that Jones had started his college career as a defensive lineman at Arizona State.

"We are trying to get guys who wear well," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "People we can present to the community with pride who won't embarrass themselves or us. Not every team sees it the same way. And I'm not faulting them."

That's because not too long ago the Bengals had draft classes that resembled the cast of "The Longest Yard," with as much baggage as talent.

But on Sunday, here came Jones, who entered Arizona State on an academic scholarship and decided against following through on a career in physical therapy because the field is "oversaturated."

There looks to be some substance to this class. The second-round pick, Washington

State free safety Lamont Thompson, battled back from a neck injury. Texas Christian tight end Matt Schobel, the third-round pick, is the middle brother in a trio in which the oldest is in his second year in the NFL and the youngest is playing at TCU. In the fourth round, Purdue kicker Travis Dorsch is going to have his father negotiate his contract after Steve Dorsch got certified as an agent by the NFL Players Association just to "stay in the loop." In the sixth round, the Bengals opted for a graduate student in Florida strong safety Marquand Manuel. Manuel graduated in December of 2000 with a major in criminology and a minor in education with an eye to being a sports psychologist. The push for character is a trend that Brown has sensed in the past few years after some rocky moments off the field in the last decade for his club. "Many years ago when Pittsburgh was riding high," said Brown of the late 1970s, "we were always drafting for character. We always did, but it didn't seem to make much difference when you put them out on the field with some of those guys. Then we felt maybe we had to do what we were competing against and we did our share of that. Now it's come full circle. Now we're back trying to get people who are quality people." Jones, who turns 23 in training camp, is the perfect point man. Dressed smartly in a tailored suit, he made plans to stay overnight in Cincinnati Sunday before heading back home to Arizona Monday. He dined with offensive line coach Paul Alexander and they came back to PBS to put on matching white polo Bengals' shirts for their appearance together on Channel 9's Sunday night sports show, "Sports Of All Sorts."

SECOND (DAY) THOUGHTS: If Brown had to do it over again Sunday, he would have taken one trade proposal he turned down Saturday before taking Jones with the 10th pick. Of course, Brown had the benefit of sleeping on it a night instead of having to make a call on the clock without knowing who was going in the next five picks or so. The two factors working against it in Brown's mind were the price and the fear of trading down too far to get Jones or Miami cornerback Phillip Buchanon. "If there was an error, and it might have been my error, is not trading down and getting an extra pick," Brown said. "We were offered an opportunity to do it, but for a fourth-round pick. That was below what had been the pattern in the past and that has always

been a second-rounder. In hindsight, I should have done it. Some teams behind us made some surprise picks." The Colts surprised them when right behind them they chose Syracuse defensive end Dwight Freeney at No. 11. That would have pushed Jones down another spot, but the wild card was if the Giants at 14 and the Titans at 15 would have taken Jones if the Bengals went below them. The Bengals tried to pull a trade above those clubs, but got turned down. "It would have been a gamble," Brown said.

THE GAMBLE: Brown did gamble in the third round when he traded up six spots to No. 67 to pluck Schobel from the Lions at No. 68. But he had to give up his fifth-round pick, which would have yielded Illinois quarterback Kurt Kittner because he was on the board when the Bengals would have had the pick. "When you get something, you have to give up something," Brown said. But if the Bengals really wanted Kittner, they could have taken him in the fourth round

because they knew they couldn't get him in the sixth. But they felt they needed a pass-catching tight end and an accurate field-goal kicker more immediately for this season than a young No. 3 quarterback. **

MIND SAFETY:** Right tackle Willie Anderson who has at times openly wondered if the Bengals need a psychologist, is going to love the sixth-round pick. Florida strong safety Marquand Manuel is a grad student who wants to be a sports psychologist. But on Sunday, he needed some anger management classes after sliding to the sixth round. "They're in trouble," Manuel said of the other 31 teams. "I've got a chip on my shoulder. . . I asked my agent, 'Am I in next year's draft? Am I still hurt? What's going on? . . .Some teams thought I could play corner, but now I can't even play safety?" Not the Bengals. They feel that in time the 5-11, 208-pound Manuel is going to give incumbent strong safety JoJuan Armour a run for his money. They see a fast, smart guy

who produced consistently at a big-time school, as well as being on the Southeast Conference honor roll all four years. He slipped Sunday because of a knee injury at an all-star game, but it proved to be only a bone bruise and he says he ended up working out every other day in March and April to prove it. In fact, Bengals cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle was the first NFL coach to work him out. "I never heard back from him until about 20 minutes ago," Manuel said. "I thought that was kind of funny." Manuel said third-year Bengals receiver Peter Warrick will have no problem remembering who he is. "He'll tell you. He'll tell you the truth," Manuel said. "(I'm) probably the only guy that ran him down from behind. He knows about me. He knows I go out there and do the little things. Unheralded, but I do the little things." The Manuel pick shows how the Bengals altered their philosophy from last year's best-available-player to this year's take-for-need. Last year, the fourth round pick was running back Rudi Johnson and the sixth-rounder was linebacker Riall Johnson and they combined to play in only nine games. Riall did recover the on-side kick that led to the overtime win over Pittsburgh, but this time the Bengals steered away from wide receivers, linebackers and running backs, the positions they are the deepest. "I like Rudi Johnson. I think he's a good player. But if someone doesn't get hurt, he doesn't play," Brown said. "This time we tried to get guys who will play sooner, easier." QUARTERBACK TALK: Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau, who held out hope for a trade for Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe until the bitter end, surrendered like one of the gracious Civil War commanders he knows so much about. Appomattox arrived Sunday when the Bills got him for a first-round pick next year. "Drew Bledsoe's a great person and I wish him luck," LeBeau said, failing to suppress a smile. "He better get ready for the fire zones." Which is a gentle reminder the Bengals are going to be blitzing him in the Aug. 9

pre-season opener and the Dec. 29 regular-season finale, both in Buffalo. Scott Covington, the Bengals' No. 3 quarterback, noted after he worked out Sunday that Bledsoe didn't get traded here and that the Bengals didn't draft a quarterback. "So it hasn't been a bad weekend for me, has it?" Covington asked. Since Tom Brady's Super Bowl MVP performance, Brown has been gently prodding the coaches to at least give Covington a serious look. Covington, a seventh-round pick in '99, is the Bengals' Brady equivalent. He's thrown just five NFL passes, none in this century. But Covington's standing among the coaches took a dip when he didn't go to NFL Europe last month. "Up until about 10 days ago, I didn't know what my future was until the (one-year) contract was put in front of me," Covington said. "In this league, you never know. It's hard to plan on something like that not knowing what's ahead." Covington, cut twice last year by the Bengals, has had an uneasy year. He thinks he's helping himself more by being here studying the same playbook and throwing to the same receivers he'll see in training camp.

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