BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals brought some of the West Coast to their West Coast offense today. Rookie wide receiver Danny Farmer's sprained right ankle passed one of their notoriously tough physicals, making him the third rookie receiver on a roster of 15 NFL catches.
It also brings together three-fourths of the quartet that lit up the Oregon-UCLA game two years ago when UCLA's Farmer and quarterback Cade McNown went overtime to outduel Oregon receiver Damon Griffin and quarterback Akikli Smith, 41-38.
"He's the kind of guy we can use because we've got a lot of fast, little guys," said the 5-9 Griffin of the 6-3 Farmer. "He's a tall guy who can catch. What I like about him is that he goes up and attacks the ball. He goes up and fights for the ball. That's how he made some of the plays against us."
But are they too young after four-year veteran James Hundon was released to make room for Farmer, a fourth-round pick cut by the Steelers? Throw in rookies Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans of Florida State, and the second-year tandem of Griffin and Craig Yeast, and you've got the Ohio River version of the Beach Boys.
"The issue isn't how young they are, it's how they play," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "We think the guys we have are better than the guys we had before. Yes, he's a rookie and James had some years in him, but we think (Farmer) is an intriguing prospect who we liked in the draft. . .This is a chance to take a look at him. We'll look at him. If he pans out, we're in luck. If he doesn't, we'll go back and get someone else. Maybe James."
Farmer hopes he can stick longer than the weekend. He says he's not as slow as the scouts think, saying he ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash for the Redskins in a workout. And he already felt more welcome in Cincinnati after just 45 minutes with the club than in his four months with the Steelers. He's already got a friend in town, injured Reds third baseman Aaron Boone, and planned to have dinner with him tonight. Boone played ball with Farmer's cousin at USC.
"It was a situation where they had guys that knew the offense who were starting to click and they wanted to go that way," Farmer said of Pittsburgh. "It's beneficial for me to be here."
Farmer said the right ankle he sprained Aug. 10 against the Panthers no longer gives him problems ("it was a three to three-and-a-half week injury,") and has started to feel normal the past few days after he played Friday night against Washington. It was a left ankle sprain, along with a groin pull, that limited him to 29 catches for 573 yards last season at UCLA after teaming with McNown for 58 catches and a 22-yard per catch average in 1998.
"I've got both ankle sprains out of the way now," Farmer said. . .
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Farmer, wearing No. 83, arrived so late for today's practice that he had time to only join the receivers in their end-of-practice huddle. Warrick gave him a hug and Griffin told him the Ducks really should have won that game. Dugans reminded him where Florida State finished in the polls.
"I hung out with Peter at the Playboy All-American (photo) shoot," Farmer said. "He's a good guy. Easy to be with. I hung with him and Dugans at the (NFL scouting) combine. I like it. They're more my age. We can learn together."
Farmer knows he has something to prove after catching just three balls for 18 yards for the Steelers. He doesn't see himself as just a volleyball leaper. He thinks he can do a lot of things. He gained a measure of fame playing college volleyball, but says, "I've given it up now. I might take it up again later, but right now it's strictly football."
Here's a guy who was actually looking forward to running the end-of-practice sprints, but it was the receivers' day for weights.
"I'll go in and lift and get warmed up and get used to Cincinnati," Farmer said.
Someone asked him if he missed the West Coast after spending all this time in the Midwest.
"I was ready to journey from the West Coast and I said, 'There's no ocean there,' " he said. "That's OK. There's a few rivers. Those will be fine."