Copeland, Bengals talk

5-16-01, 11:00 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals have an offer out to John Copeland, but the former Bengals defensive end also has proposals from other teams and may not decide what to do until after June 1.

That's the date of the next expected purge in the NFL as teams lop players with big bonuses so the bulk of the salary-cap hit can be taken next year.

"That would give us an opportunity to really assess the roster situations at that time if we wait," said Tim McGee, the former Bengals receiver who is Copeland's agent.

"We've been told there are slots available and where. But if there were something good enough, he would jump on it. The Bengals gave us an offer and we've talked today."

Which probably means the Bengals' offer isn't what he wants three weeks after they cut him and saved $1.3 million against the salary cap.

Copeland, who turns 31 early in the season, knows he won't be getting the $2.35 million average salary he was scheduled to get over the next two seasons. But he probably isn't ready to play for the $477,000 minimum, either.

Still, the Bengals hold his interest despite the drafting of Missouri end Justin Smith and the signing of free-agent Steelers end Kevin Henry.

"There's no question he'd like to come back and play there," McGee said. "He likes (head coach) Dick LeBeau and (line coach) Tim Krumrie and the organization has treated him fairly. He took one for the team last year when he switched to tackle, but he's a mature player who understands what's going on."

For the first time in his eight-year career, Copeland played tackle last season when free-agent pickup Tom Barndt struggled with a shoulder injury that made him a one-armed player. Barndt makes $1.2 million this season, which may or may not be a factor for Copeland.

Copeland does fit the Bengals' desire for a versatile defensive lineman who can play both tackle and end.

"Two years ago was probably his best season," McGee said. "The guy is still productive."

VOLUNTEERING INFO: Linebacker Takeo Spikes says his shoulder is 85 percent healed and he's hoping to get on the field the last week of voluntary camp, from May 29-31. . .

Trainer Paul Sparling is still keeping an eye on quarterback Akili Smith's sore throwing shoulder. He let him throw three balls in Wednesday's 7-on-7 drill and cut him off when there was a little pain. Smith plans to try and let loose with his longer throws Thursday. He has been throwing 10-yard routes and shorter pretty much pain free. "He'll be fine. It's day-by-day," Sparling said. "It's overuse, so you don't want to go back to what got him there. It's got to be gradual. . .

Some of the rookies, who can't practice until their college graduates, returned Wednesday. The only draft pick among them was fifth-rounder Victor Leyva, a guard tackle from Arizona State. Justin Smith is expected next week. The Oregon State duo, receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh , won't be able to work again until training camp. . .

Workers put down about 15 percent of the Bengals' new field in the stadium Wednesday. The rest of the trucks from New Jersey are expected Thursday after the cutting of the sod took longer than expected.

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