Ex-UC corner replaces Stephens

8-28-02, 3:30 p.m. Updated:
8-28-02, 4:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals went up the hill to Clifton to make a roster move Wednesday when they picked up former University of Cincinnati cornerback LaVar Glover off waivers from the Steelers.

They made room for Glover, one of the Steelers' seventh-round draft picks, by placing offensive lineman Jamain Stephens on season-long injured reserve. Stephens is out for the season after surgery Wednesday to repair the rotator cuff in his left shoulder.

Bengals trainer Paul Sparling said Stephens suffered a complete tear of the rotator cuff and is looking at a recovery time of three to four months.

Stephens, 28, a seven-year NFL veteran heading into his fourth season with the Bengals, had been in a struggle for a roster spot with Victor Leyva's versatility at backup right tackle and right guard. Plus, he's working on the last deal of his contract.

The Bengals are now left with the traditional number of 10 offensive linemen heading into Thursday's pre-season finale, which leaves an opening for rookie free-agent guard Thatcher Szalay on the roster. It is now down to crunch-time for the longshots, as evidenced by the layout of the Bengals' locker room.

The 6-4, 305-pound Szalay is squeezed into a cramped locker made of minor-league metal planted in the middle of the room in a garden reserved for the college free agents. The good thing for Szalay is there are only a handful of those lockers left. When he arrived from Montana's Division I-AA champions for May's minicamp, equipment managers Rob Recker and Jeff Brickner had the middle of the room lined with the portable lockers.

"Of course I think about it," said Szalay of his hopes for a roomy wood locker given to the veterans and the draft picks. "I'm just in it right now day-by-day. Even if I make it, a guy in my position is still always going to have to take it day-by-day."

Szalay isn't in that bad of a spot. He said 22 teams called him in the hours after the draft and two offered bigger deals than what the Bengals had on the table. But after discussing it with his agent, Szalay thought his best shot was trying to break into Cincinnati's veteran-filled interior line. With four days left until Cutdown Day, their decision that took them four hours beyond the last draft pick is starting to look timely.

"He's strong, he's got size, and he's got good leverage," said Jim Lippincott, the club's director of pro football operations. "And it means a lot to him. He likes to play the game and we like his intensity."

Of course, that still doesn't mean he'll make it because the Bengals could see a guy they like on the waiver wire, or a need at another position might bump him.

Which is what hapened to the rookie free-agent cornerbacks who had good training camps when the club picked Glover at the late hour. Fresno State's Tierre Sams and Alabama's Reggie Myles both would have made the team if this were 1999.

But since then, the Bengals have homegrown some competent veteran cornerbacks and the real roster fight there seems to be with veterans Rodney Heath, Bo Jennings and Robert Bean.

It would seem Myles or Sams, or maybe both, are headed to the practice squad. Myles who figured he had his first 20-snap game only last Saturday, isn't worrying about it.

"Sometimes (I look at the position) and the names and try to figure out who is going and who is staying," Myles said. But I don't do it very often. You can't let that affect the way you play, so why worry about it?"

But even that is in doubt now with the arrival of the 5-9, 175-pound Glover. He's as homegrown as you get. He made UC's team as a walk-on out of Jefferson High School in Dayton, Ohio, and went on to become the Bearcats' first special teams captain under head coach Rick Minter. He had three tackles, one pass defensed, and two special teams tackles with the Steelers in the preseason.

"We had a lot of chances to look at him last fall and we liked him," Lippincott said. "He worked out for us here before the draft and he showed us the good coverability and speed we saw when he played in games."

No doubt Recker and Brickner will set him up in a metal locker Thursday. Meanwhile, a guy like Myles is looking enviously across the room.

"A big locker," Myles said. "A nice big locker with a lot of wood. That would be nice."

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