Condition red

1-29-03, 6:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

If anyone knows how a NFL team is going to react to offseason workouts under a new coaching regime. it's new Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton.

Counting his run with the 1995 expansion Panthers, Morton is undergoing his fifth stint with a staff change.

Which means he expects a sizeable turnout when the club opens off-season workouts March 24. That might mean about half the 68 players currently on the roster and maybe more, which just might be the biggest turnout in the free-agency era. One of the bigger knocks against this team has been the lack of attendance at the March and April conditioning sessions that precede minicamps and voluntary workouts.

One stat that lends some validity to the criticism is that last year Bengals' starters lost 68 games to injury, the third most the NFL.

"Typically that first year, it's a good turnout. High percentage," said Morton, who reports to work next week. "And it makes sense that it would be. Put yourself in a player's shoes. He's trying to learn the new staff and what their expectations are. If you're committed, it would behoove you to be there for at least some of the segments and get to know us and our demands."

Who ever shows up, it's going to be a different weight room right down to the layout. Morton is ordering his style of equipment, which will be mixed in with some machines already in place.

For instance, he'll probably have more free weights on hand than before, and he'll probably have some heavier cardiovascular equipment. Keep an eye on that. Head coach Marvin Lewis likes treadmill tests.

Plus, Morton might do a little redecorating in the room.

"It's the same idea no matter what equipment you have," Morton said. "You have to make sure it's being used properly and consistently. And we want to come up with some different and exciting things to keep them coming back."

Not only was Morton there in the first year at Carolina, but he was there when Bobby Ross arrived in San Diego in 1992, Brian Billick in Baltimore in 1999, and Steve Spurrier in Washington last year. He has seen a typical workout day.

"After they get done with their workout," Morton said, "they can do some things on the field with each other, quarterbacks and receivers can throw, and they can watch film. There's always film to watch. Like Marvin says, it adds to esprit de corps."

And you might see some atypical stuff. Like you feel like you're watching ESPN 2 in the middle of the night.

"As we go along," Morton said, "we might do some of those "Strongman,"type deals. We've been known to flip some tires. We'll see what we can come up with."

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