Contract talks begin

5-7-02, 12:40 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

With minicamp behind them, the Bengals are in the process of negotiating with some of their draft picks and made "good progress," Tuesday with sixth-rounder Marquand Manuel.

Jim Lippincott, the club's director of pro/college personnel, said those talks are ongoing with agent Neil Schwartz. Lippincott also had discussions with the agent for third-round pick Matt Schobel.

Bengals vice president Paul Brown is expected to meet with second-rounder Lamont Thompson's agent later this week in California. Although it's usually early for a deal to get done, Nate Lampley, the former agent for Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins, says he got Hawkins' rookie deal done with the club on May 14, 1998. That was the year the Bengals had an extra first-round pick and an extra third-round pick from the Dan Wilkinson trade and Lampley wanted to make sure his second-rounder didn't get squeezed in the rookie pool.

"Paul Brown did that deal, too, and it was a very fair one," Lampley said. "Once you sit down and realize how much the team has to spend on each player and where your guy fits, it shouldn't matter if you do it early."

All the NFL teams' rookie pools are pretty much the same as last year, when Texas A&M wide receiver Robert Ferguson got $1.4 million to sign a four-year, $2.8 million deal in Thompson's slot at No. 41.

THREE MAY BE COMPANY: Neil Rackers' strong performance during minicamp has all but ruled out his release from the Bengals before training camp. In fact, for the moment, it puts the three-kicker option front and center as the club begins the four-month process of crafting a 53-man roster.

If he could find a good enough kick-off man, Bengals President Mike Brown has never been adverse to keeping three kickers on the roster. With the drafting of versatile and powerful (but inconsistent) Travis Dorsch, it has the Bengals mulling some options. One of which is Dorsch kicking off, Rackers kicking field goals, and Nick Harris punting.

"These days, several teams keep three kickers and have been successful

with it," Brown said. "That's a very real possibility. It's something that will be worked on as we go through the preseason. It's an option for us, but I would think it's going to depend on what happens in the games."

When Dorsch got drafted, everyone Rackers included thought it was just a matter of time before he was the man and Rackers would move on. But Brown liked what he saw from all the kickers this weekend.

"I take it as a positive," Brown said. "Neil Rackers has responded to the competition and is going to go after this thing just as hard and that's good to see and good for us. Harris back bigger and stronger and with a year's experience. And Dorsch has shown he's got a very powerful leg."

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SCOTT RESTING:** The Bengals have decided to treat wide receiver Darnay Scott's sore left leg conservatively and won't take out the rod in his leg for a couple of more weeks. On Monday, Scott visited the doctor who inserted the 14-inch rod back in August, 2000 following his broken leg and Kevin Reilly advised more rest and rehab in the hope that will eliminate the pain in his shin.

Trainer Paul Sparling said the Bengals can wait until the end of May to decide if Scott's rod has to be removed. He could still have surgery at that point and be back in time for the start of training camp. Scott himself is lobbying not to take out the rod.

JONES' NOTES: First-round pick Levi Jones and his fellow rookies broke minicamp Monday, but all but two are expected back May 16 because their college class has taken its last final exam.

Jones at left tackle and safety Marquand Manuel, a sixth-round pick, looked to be the draft choices who

impressed the most. Jones was taking some mental notes for what he wants to accomplish when he gets back.

"Technique, technique, technique," Jones said. "I think the best thing I did here was pass blocking, but I need to work on my run blocking. The technique is different here. The fits on the man are different. I have to focus on that part of it."

Jones pretty much got what he expected: "The speed of the game. I thought everything was going to be faster and it was."

While the rookies headed home Monday, the Bengals' veterans are back for the next three days for 90-minute workouts. The two most visible newcomers, cornerback Jeff Burris and quarterback Gus Frerotte, are commuting by car from Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, respectively. But not until the weekend.

Frerotte planned to take in the Reds-Brewers game at Cinergy Field Monday night.

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