Fan-ning the flames

7-27-04, 5:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals President Mike Brown expressed caution Tuesday when talking about a rookie quarterback facing a schedule of seven teams that won at least 10 games last season. Head coach Marvin Lewis smiled and said he wouldn't offer "caution," to describe his thoughts on the 2004 season. But both couldn't contain their enthusiasm about a fan base that has responded with its biggest turnout in 12 years by virtually selling out the first six Paul Brown Stadium games 54 days before the Sept. 19 home opener.

"We have a big challenge, yet we think we're improving. People can sense that. They want to be a part of that and you can see that in the ticket sales. They're booming," Brown said at Tuesday's PBS media luncheon in advance of Friday's report date at Georgetown College. "I credit Marvin with turning it around. He's done an excellent job."

The Bengals haven't sold tickets like this at the beginning of the season since 1992, the last year of their streak of 43 straight Riverfront Stadium sellouts that dated to 1988.

"Our attendance fell off. We earned it," said Brown of the dry stretch from '91-02. "We're coming back now. This is a bigger stadium. It seats over 65,000 people, and if we win, it's going to be like the old days at Riverfront. To my eye, that's a beautiful thing. I love walking in there with the crowd humming. The electricity in the air. We're going to have some of that this year. If we win games, it will hum."

Brown, who breaks his media silence at this event, is characteristically cautious of how many wins given the demanding schedule at home and on the road. Miami, Baltimore, Denver, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland are in that first stretch at PBS. Only the division rivals Steelers and Browns failed to won 10 games in '03.

But Brown is grateful the Bengals are back on the map with the Sept. 19 Miami game the first nationally-televised game in Cincy in seven years, and the Oct. 25 game against Denver the first Monday Nighter in 15 seasons.

"Somebody up at the league office might think things are interesting out here," Brown said. "I think the national media sees it that way. There are positive stories about Marvin, positive stories abut Palmer, positive stories about Chad. All this is good."

Tickets for those first six games are now available only through the purchase of season tickets. Single-game tickets remain available only for the back-to-back games in December against the Bills on the 19th and the Giants on the 26th, as well as for the pre-season games of Aug. 21 against the Super Bowl champion Patriots and Sept. 3 against the Colts.

Season tickets can be obtained through the Bengals Ticket Hot Line at 513-621-TDTD, or toll free at 866-621-TDTD, or at the Paul Brown Stadium ticket office off Elm Street. The single game tickets are being handled through Area TicketMaster Outlets and Ticketmaster.com: In Cincinnati at 513/562-4949, in Dayton at 937/228-2323, in Columbus at 614-431-3600, in Lexington at 859-281-6644 and in Louisville at 502/361-3100. Starting Friday, the single-game tickets are available at the Bengals' Hot Line.

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STILL TALKING:** Even as the Bengals tried to get 10 unsigned draft picks in the fold before Saturday's first two practices, they were still talking Tuesday about adding another veteran in former Cowboys tight end James Whalen and maybe another in old friend Adrian Ross.

Ross, cut by the Bengals Friday, said he is visiting Steelers and old coach Dick LeBeau Tuesday and Wednesday. Then he plans to visit a team he would only say is "back West," (Seattle?), and he said he hasn't ruled out coming back to Cincinnati, hinting the Bengals might be interested in signing him again at a price lower than his $1 million salary for '04 that couldn't happen when he became a backup to Nate Webster at middle linebacker instead of a starter.

But the Steelers look to be high on his radar. LeBeau helped lure Ross to Cincinnati as a rookie free agent out of Colorado State back in 1998, primarily because of how he fit into the 3-4 defense that the Steelers play now and the Bengals haven't since the middle of 1999.

"That's the reason I chose Cincinnati," Ross said. "I loved what LeBeau did with the Steelers' linebackers like Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene."

The agent for Whalen said his client has heard from the Bengals and four others since his release Tuesday from a Dallas club that is bringing in a new set of tight ends. Whalen, 26, has 17 catches for 152 yards in three seasons. All came in 2002, when former Bengals heads coach Bruce Coslet was the Cowboys offensive coordinator and Greg Seamon was the tight ends coach. Both are now in the Bengals personnel department.

"Yes, they have called and we hope to have something within 24 to 48 hours," said agent Alan Herman.

Some quick hits from the media luncheon:

Lewis released his depth chart in the media guide and there is nothing stunning. Bobbie Williams, a free agent from the Eagles, is No. 1 at right guard. Patrick Johnson, a wideout from the Redskins, is No. 1 at kick return. Cornerback Deltha O'Neal is No. 2 behind both Johnson and punt returner Peter Warrick.

Lewis also said Carson Palmer is going to play more than the average stating quarterback in the NFL, and he wants him to get used to (at least once) doing a two-minute drill at the end of the first half, and then coming out and loosening up for the second.

Lewis also said all players are healthy, although Warrick (knee), left tackle Levi Jones (knee), and left guard Eric Steinbach (elbow) are probably going to rest on some afternoons when they practice hard in the morning.

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