Diamond in rough

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Leave it to defensive captain Takeo Spikes to sum up what this season means to the club. Before today's practice, he spoke to the beat reporters about noticing how the country (hello Sports Illustrated) continues to dog the Bengals and how they should use it as motivation.

"This team is under a lot of pressure," Spikes said. "I look at this team as a piece of coal. Once the pressure hits the coal, it turns into a diamond. The pressure breaks it open. So hopefully we'll shine brightly this season."

THIS AND THAT: Rookie receiver Peter Warrick, passed over by the Cleveland Browns as the top pick in this year's draft, has no agenda when the Bengals open the season with them Sept. 10. "I'll be there. It's a one o'clock game, right?" Warrick said with a smile. "They felt like they picked the guy (Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown) who was going to help them the most. It probably worked out the best for me to come here. I can help this team in a lot of ways." . . The Bengals' other waiver wire pickup with rookie receiver Danny Farmer, former New England safety Chris Carter, made it to the tail end of practice. Secondary coach Ray Horton is enthused with the move because he's got a backup safety with 15 career starts. . .C Rich Braham reported no swelling in his knee when he returned for a second straight day of work. . .DE Vaughn Booker's knee is a little stiff but he says he's working through it for the opener.

Rehberg gets his shot:The fallout from the release of Bengals starting right guard Brian DeMarco is making for one of the best NFL stories of the year: Scott Rehberg gets to start against his old Clevleand Browns teammates that ripped him to shreds in the media last season.

With Mike Goff replacing DeMarco in the starting lineup and left guard Matt O'Dwyer sitting out a one-game suspension, Rehberg gets promoted to left guard for the Sept. 10 opener. He had no comment today about the searing comments from tackles Orlando Brown and Lomas Brown that questioned him for missing a 33-21 loss to Tennessee because of the flu.

After the game, Orlando Brown said, "I don't know how sick he was, I don't know how weak he was, but no cold would keep me out of a game." Lomas Brown, the man Rehberg was to replace at left tackle, wouldn't let it die a week later when he brought up Rehberg being banged up much of the year: "It's almost like the boy crying. You cry wolf so long, when you really cry wolf, nobody (believes you)."

To Rehberg's credit, he shrugged off the ugliness today with the Cincinnati media. At the time, Rehberg, who was on IV fluids, told the Cleveland media it's the worst he ever felt in his life.

"It was unfortunate the way things progressed," Rehberg said. "This is a new year, a new team, a new day, a new way."

But make no mistake. Rehberg, 26, who started 13 games for the Browns last season at three different spots, knows exactly who he's playing on Sept. 10.

"Coming in here, I knew the situation," said Rehberg, who signed with the Bengals as a free agent back in the spring. "I knew the situation with Matt. My goal was to start that first game against Cleveland. Not only getting the start, but also that it's Cleveland. I don't think there's any bad blood. I don't think I got a fair shake with what happened. It was unfortunate the way it turned out."

Rehberg, taken by the Patriots in the seventh round of the '97 draft out of Central Michigan, started last season 10 games at right guard, two games at left tackle and one game at right guard. But Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander, who recruited Rehberg to Central Michigan before he took a job with the Jets, says left guard is Rehberg's most natural spot.

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ANDERSON LIKES GOFF:** Right tackle Willie Anderson is going to miss DeMarco, but he likes Goff's athleticism and points to the job Goff did on Jacksonville Pro Bowler Tony Brackens in the season finale. Subbing for let tackle Rod Jones, Goff played all 44 snaps and allowed no sacks or quarterback pressures.

"That should tell you something," Anderson said. "We'll miss DeMarco, but Goff will be equipped to move in and probably bring us a little more to right guard than we had before. . . He and Brian had (different styles). With Brian, it was more a mental thing. He knew the game, he'd been in playoff games. Goff brings the total package of knowing the game. . .He's fast, he's quick. He's improved tremendously since his rookie year."

When Goff showed up in the first-team huddle today, Anderson told him, "Hey, Goff, it's the first time I've seen you in here since Minnesota in '98." That's when Goff was a rookie and replaced the injured Ken Blackman.

In a huge display of class, DeMarco called Goff Sunday after he was released to wish him well.

"I'm losing a friend, but I'm gaining an opportunity," Goff said.

JUST FOR KICKS: After missing two field goals and an extra point last Friday night, rookie kicker Neil Rackers said Lions Pro Bowl kicker Jason Hanson told him "good luck kicking on this field," after he missed two field goals himself on Paul Brown Stadium's grass.

"I'm not here to make excuses about the field," Rackers said. "I missed the kicks. I went out there today and did well. We had it going. We'll probably go in and kick in the stadium tomorrow and Wednesday."

The Bengals' practice field has different grass than what's in the stadium because of the timetable to open the stadium. By next year, both surfaces will be similar, but as Rackers said, "I don't have a year."

Special teams coach Al Roberts said, "It had nothing to do with the field, the grass, the stadium. Nothing. The kid was just overexcited."

INJURY RETURN: The Three Bs finally returned to practice today after missing most of training camp. C Rich Braham (knee) and DE Michael Bankston (knee/ calf) went full go. DT Tom Barndt (chest) did pretty much everything but pass rush drills because they don't want him reaching. All three expect to be ready for the Sept. 10 opener. So does DE Vaughn Booker (knee) who worked today so he can see if he has any swelling on Tuesday.

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