12-5-02, 7:45 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
For the first time in his eight NFL seasons, Oliver Gibson can't play on Sunday and he wants to fill the vacuum with a ninth season to remember.
What's that about absence making the heart grow fonder? He can lose the crutches in early January, at about the same time he can walk in water, and he says he could be ready for May minicamp. But he knows he won't be allowed to participate until training camp.
"There is no offseason for me," said Gibson Thursday, leaning on crutches three weeks after doctors repaired his torn Achilles'.
"I think if I had applied that attitude last season, I could have been a better player instead of waiting until March to get ready, and done stuff right away," Gibson said. "Cardio is a daily thing. Eating habits are a daily thing. Weight will not be an issue. Something like this, it makes you appreciate the game more. Once again, I'm back to doing it the hard way and that's how I got here."
Bengals President Mike Brown made it an issue right away, a few days after his starting defensive tackle and run anchor suffered the injury Nov. 10 in Baltimore. First, Brown asked Gibson how he was doing. The second thing, Brown didn't ask. He told Gibson that he couldn't do what he usually does in the offseason and add about 20 pounds to his playing weight of about 315.
"He's right," said Gibson, who has lost six pounds. "I can't let it be a problem at this point physiologically."
Psychologically, the injury has has had an impact on a player who
never missed a practice. He has seen all the games on NFL ticket, but he has to busy himself during the first half before sitting down and watching the second.
"To see how close, and knowing the ins and outs of what is going on and how this team keeps playing hard, it hurts, I won't lie to you," Gibson said. "It's made me appreciate the game even more. I love football even more now. There doesn't even have to be contact and it can be over for you. I'd rather be out there on the field struggling with everybody else instead of sitting at home watching.
Gibson admits he didn't have the season he expected. After finishing 11th against the run last season, the Bengals are third worst against the run heading into Sunday's game against Carolina. Gibson thinks he was "solid," against the run, but he thought he was going reach his peak in the second half of the season that never came with the injury in the first game after the halfway point.
"My tackles for loss weren't quite what I expected and I didn't do things I wanted to do against the pass," Gibson said. "I didn't have a sack and that was disappointing. But it's encouraging I have another chance. That's what I've got an appreciation for. There are things which I'm going to do in the offseason to assure success next year."
Gibson understands what the medical people are telling him. For a guy who turns 31 on March 15, he has suffered a significant injury.
"He'll return, but the question is how effective he'll be," said trainer Paul Sparling. "There are a lot of factors working into it. He's got more years behind him instead of in front of him, but he's helped by the position he plays. Quickness is a concern, but he doesn't have to be a speedster there. He's got a long way to go, but at this point things look as good as can be."
Gibson attributes his early weight loss to some exercise machines he has purchased and the fact the injury coincided with the Islamic holy holiday of Ramadan. Gibson hasn't been able to eat or drink during the day since he got hurt.
It also helped that Bengals strength coach Kim Wood, a fellow music aficionado, sent along some rare funk and R&B records by Cincinnati artists for his workouts.
"Kim Wood," Gibson said, "is the hippest white man on the planet."
Gibson also likes his position coach, Tim Krumrie, and his head coach Dick LeBeau. He knows he's not an objective voice when it comes to the buzz of off-season changes, which he is dead set against.
"I'm biased," said Gibson, who followed LeBeau from Pittsburgh to sign as a free agent in 1999. "I worry about it in the sense that Coach Krumrie is the best coach I ever had. I don't care if he runs my ass out of town tomorrow.
"I know it's not Coach LeBeau. That's the sad thing about it," Gibson said. "It's us and I've been part of the problem. It's a bunch of the little things. I don't think, given the circumstances, bringing somebody new here is the answer. I think we have a good team, we should have had a great defense. I think we need to continue to build."
But Gibson also knows it's a business, and of the possible changes he admits, "It's something I'm not looking forward to. Of course, I really can't get all wrapped up in it because all they've told me is to get my butt ready and get back on the field and that's what I have to worry about."
As it starts, his rehab is not a weighty issue.