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Drew draws fans on both sides

4-8-02, 2:15 p.m.

The fans are drawn to Drew.

No surprises in this week's E-Mail. Bengaldom is buzzing about the possible trade for Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe. And if it's not Bledsoe, the fans still want to talk quarterback.

The first pick at No. 10? Some want to trade down to get an extra second-round pick for the needs of safety, tight end, and quarterback. Many want to keep it and take a cornerback, a left tackle, or a safety. Here is a sampling of Hobson's Choice.

I hope the Bengals make the right choice and take Bledsoe. That will be the Bengals' strength come the future. Keep Smith and Kitna and they can learn a lot from a QB like Bledsoe. We do not need to go look for a rookie QB. Let Bledsoe in so we can have our turn to shine. It's time for the Bengals to rise back on top and I think with Bledsoe, this could be the year for, "THE EYE OF THE TIGER." IT'S NOT A QUESTION IT'S AN ANSWER. **Rex, Wayne, W.V.

REX: The two factors working against a Bledsoe trade at the moment are New England's demand for at least a first-round draft pick. That has also snagged the Bills' bid up in Buffalo.

Then, the Bengals would have to do some cutting of the salary cap to fit in his $5 million salary in '02. The Bengals have to judge if Bledsoe is going to be good enough to offset the loss of a first-round pick and cap casualty such as speedy wide receiver Darnay Scott. Right now, the answer looks to be no.**

Why would the Bengals try to get Drew Bledsoe? I understand what a great player he is, but when you have to give up the kind of player they would have to give up, or a No. 1 draft choice, how would that be justified? Wouldn't they be better using Kitna as the starter, Akili as the backup, and using a third or lower round draft pick on a quarterback? Baltimore proved that you don't need a great quarterback! **Paul, Aurora, IN

Paul: You don't need a great one, but you need something better than what the Bengals have had the past two seasons, when Kitna (12), Smith (3) and Mitchell (3) combined for 18 touchdown passes in 32 games. When Trent Dilfer came off the Baltimore bench in 2000, he threw 12 TD passes alone in the last nine games. You have to score and you have to pass no matter how good the running game and defense. The lack of production has been so low, they feel the need to pursue options.**

Is there really a substantial chance that we're going to draft yet another dubious QB in the first round? Please say no. We've done it twice in the last decade, and I hope that Mike Brown doesn't need to be burned a third time. Although we need to draft a corner, I'd hate to see

the Bengals reach and take a player who is not first round-caliber if Jammer and Buchanon are gone. I'm not sure what kind of a combine and workouts he's had, but (safety) Roy Williams looks like a natural. Being from Fort Thomas, I have to ask: What's the draft forecast for former Highlands and UK standout Derek Smith? Thanks! Steve, Fort Thomas, KY.

**Steve: Taking Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington with the 10th pick is a possibility, but it probably wouldn't bring the crushing expectations that came when David Klingler took over for an icon in Boomer and when Akili came as the third pick. Plus, Harrington wouldn't be thrown into the fire right away, and he would have much better protection than Klingler and Smith.

The problem is, if you pick Harrington, you don't get a first-round pick who helps you this year. As for reaching for the third corner at No. 10 (Florida's Lito Sheppard?), you have to figure they would take a tight end, safety, or offensive or defensive lineman first. Roy Williams is a great, line-of-scrimmage player, but don't they need a ball hawk safety back there with this stingy front seven they already have?

Derek Smith, a 6-4, 270-pound junior, is coming early out of Lexington and some scouts are wondering about that. The Bengals think he is a nice athlete and has potential down the road as both a receiver and blocker. Forecasters see him going late in the draft and feel he has to upgrade his blocking if he is to stick in the NFL.**

What is the status of Sean Brewer? Do the Bengals really need to draft another TE in the first couple of rounds or is Brewer a bust? **Mark, London, England.

Mark: That's why they have to draft a guy because they don't know if Brewer is a bust or not after taking him in the third round last year. About all they saw him do was get fitted for pads the first week of camp. That was an expensive groin injury that kept him out all year. It's probably going to cost them a second- or third-round draft pick this year.

Some club insiders were shocked at Brewer's oddly-shaped body when he showed up for minicamp. But if he shows them the speed and hands they think he has, he should contribute. The problem is, how much of a factor will two rookie tight ends be?**

Why are the Bengals even considering wasting a first-round draft pick on a tight end when a quality Pro Bowl tight end wants to play here? Ken Dilger is a proven veteran and that first-round pick could prove to be much more valuable. If they do draft a tight end, does that mean they wasted a third-round pick last year in Brewer? **Bill, Cincinnati.

Bill: If they draft a gifted tight end like Shockey at No. 10, nothing would be a waste. All of a sudden, Kitna looks better hitting that 15-yard loft over the middle on first down to a tight end who separates from coverage. The Bengals admire Dilger, but they feel it is such a deep draft of tight ends in the first three rounds that they believe Brewer and the rookie can be long-term answers. They want to get younger there and Dilger is two months older than Tony McGee, who turns 31 on Draft Sunday.**

Don't you think that the Bengals have given Akili Smith more than a fair chance? I've noticed that quarterbacks in the NFL who are going to make an impact usually do so right away or show some signs. I've seen nothing like this out of Akili. I think it would make sense to either trade him or release him and free up some of the cap money. Then pursue a guy like Bledsoe. I think the Bengals need to send a message to the rest of the league and to their fans that they are committed to winning and want to win now. I think all the pieces are in place for the Bengals to have a great team. All they need is a good, solid, experienced quarterback who can lead them. I think they should really pursue a quarterback vigorously. What are your thoughts? **Tyler, Newark, Ohio.

Tyler: Last year, they went out and signed four free-agent starters and this year they got another, re-signed another, and locked up their leading sacker for the next three years. They did unsuccessfully pursue QBs right out of the gate with Dilfer and Elvis Grbac, and were apparently the first team to make a serious contact with the Pats about Bledsoe. So you'd have to say the commitment is there.

If they don't get Bledsoe, that doesn't mean they've raised the white flag on 2002. The only other team pursuing the guy is Buffalo, so not everyone is enthralled with Bledsoe's last two seasons.

Here is one view that says Smith has not had the greatest of shots here. Yes, he has brought a lot of his problems on himself, but they haven't exactly helped him.

The prime example is the 2000 NFL opener, when he made his fifth career start after missing virtually all of his rookie training camp in a holdout and the last eight games of his rookie year with a bad toe. He came into his second season with five wide receivers who had a total of 15 NFL catches and a left tackle who had problems with speed rushers. Not exactly surrounding the kid. But at least it shouldn't have been a problem that day because Bengals running back Corey Dillon was coming off a season in which he had gained 360 yards in two games against these same Cleveland Browns.

You try to protect the kid, right? Don't make him throw 25 passes, right? Except, they gave Dillon the ball 12 times and asked Smith to drop back to pass 50 times. And, it didn't help last year when they virtually took another year away from him by making 33-year-old QB Scott Mitchell the backup.

That said, Smith has to do a better job of harnessing the mental aspects of the game and showing the coaches more work ethic, which he has the past week in several long meetings with offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.

Financially, he's a nice fit as a backup because he gets minimum salaries. They can't cut him or trade him yet because it would do the exact opposite and not free up room because it would cost about $5 million on the cap for this season.**

It is very obvious the Bengals still have some high-priced players like Tony McGee, Darryl Williams, and so on, who do not play up to an average level. So, my question is, why don't the Bengals restructure the contracts and/or release the before mentioned players who aren't worth much anyway in order to free up money for a guy like cornerback (Tom) McNight, Bledsoe, and Dilger?? Such moves, in addition to the last two years of free-agent acquisitions, would undoubtedly propel the Bengals into playoff contention!! Mike Brown says no money this, no money that, well, get rid of the people who make the money who aren't performing to create money(i.e.:John Copeland, Doug Pelfrey, Tom Carter). My point is you are there now. Now go one step further and give this city a winner! **Ryan, Florence, Ky.

Ryan: Either Mike Brown is saying, "Money,' or 'No money.' You can't have it both ways. The reason they need room is not because he's saying, 'No money.' He's given long-term deals to Corey Dillon and Willie Anderson, and has picked up five free-agent starters the last two years.

Now, if you want to take him to task for keeping dead wood, that's fine. It should be noted that it is high-priced kindling and things could be done after June 1.You could get into a philosophical debate with him about re-structuring deals, but Brown only has to point to the cap quagmires of Tennessee and Jacksonville to prove his point about the dangers of sloughing off problems into future years.

But this is the classic dilemma you get that is only solved by winning. If they cut high-priced veterans and go with kids, (McGee and Williams are experienced players and solid locker-room guys), they get ripped for being cheap and re-building. If they stay with the high-priced vets, they get ripped for not being creative.

Solution? Win. They may have found the formula. Their relatively modest but effective free-agent deals the past two years have been what the Super Bowl champion Patriots have been doing under Bill Belichick.**

With the signing of Burris and Hawkins at cornerback, I know the Bengals are looking at safety. Does (Mark) Roman fit into the picture at safety or is he still just a corner? **Randy, Trenton, OH

Randy: Roman, who played his first three years at LSU at free safety, figures to get a look as a safety in the nickel package. If cornerback Rodney Heath comes back healthy, that gives them Burris, Hawkins, Kevin Kaesviharn and Heath as their four corners and Roman as a swingman corner/safety.**

A replacement for Webb, our left offensive tackle, seems to be ignored in all the mock drafts. Do you see us addressing this in the draft or free agency this year? **Rick, Youngstown, OH.

Not in free agency, but they do go into the draft figuring they've only got about a year left with the 35-year-old Webb at left tackle. The problem is, you have to get that 10-year answer in the first or second round and it looks like Miami's Bryant McKinnie and Texas' Mike Williams will be gone by the 10th pick and are in no danger of sliding as some fans wish.

Boston College's Marc Colombo, a gutty overachiever, would be a nice pick in the second round. But they need tight ends and safeties to simply line up in camp.**

Barring a big trade and the team goes in with Kitna, Smith, Covington (at quarterback), what are the odds that one of them will be pegged as "The Guy," immediately. One of the problems facing the team the past few years has been controversy at quarterback. It would be nice to see the team say, "Jon, you are our guy," or "Akili, your are our guy." **Steve, Ridgway, Pa.

Steve: Head coach Dick LeBeau has said that until Akili shows he's healthy and can go to work at training camp, Kitna is the No. 1 guy. That indicates that if Smith is going to win the job, he'll have to do it with snaps afforded to the backup in pre-season games. Which means he'll conceivably get more snaps than Kitna, but not necessarily with the first unit.

As of now, Kitna is the guy, but your point is made. One sure way of getting LeBeau irked last season was to keep asking if the three-man competition in training camp that spread out the snaps contributed to Kitna's inability to get on the "same page," with his receivers.


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