6-17-04, 11:30 a.m.
6-17-04, 2:45 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Former Steelers linebacker Jason Gildon ventured into the land of the arch-enemy Thursday morning when he visited the Bengals practice at Paul Brown Stadium.
Talks that were termed preliminary Monday night are now apparently more serious as Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis looks at adding another one of his players who would bring 77 career sacks to a defense looking to increase its pass rush. Lewis was the linebackers coach in Pittsburgh when the Steelers took Gildon in the third round of the 1994 draft and became one of the key players in the club's famed "Blitzburgh," Super Bowl defense.
Agent Peter Schaffer said negotiations have yet to begin, but Cincinnati is the last stop in a four-city tour that began with Green Bay and Buffalo. Chicago is also in the mix. The players certainly noticed Gildon's presence, particularly one of his long-time rivals, Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson.
Schaffer indicated it is still early in the talks: "Nothing is done. There are still about five teams in this." But count Anderson as intrigued.
"Over a two-and-a-half-year period, I think he was the only guy to beat me for a sack," said Anderson of the three he gave up from 1999 through 2001. "The guy was deadly over the years on third down with his hand down on the ground and amassing all those sacks. I think he could definitely come in here and be a boost. I'm not a coach, but he's good hand on the ground pass rusher."
Gildon, a 250-pound 3-4 linebacker for 10 seasons in Pittsburgh, could be a pass-rushing end in the 4-3 scheme in Cincinnati. He may not be the ultra Lewis fit, since the Bengals are a 4-3 defense that just drafted two 225-pound linebackers in the third round. But the Bengals are also a team in need of sacks and Gildon knows how to get them. His six last year would have tied him with end Duane Clemons and tackle John Thornton for the Bengals lead.
They finished with 30 sacks last year, six more than their 2002 total but 18 off their franchise-record 48 in 2001. Gildon would bring nearly twice as many sacks as anyone on the roster, with Clemons' 41 and strong side linebacker Kevin Hardy's 32 currently leading the way.
"He's a guy who can rush the passer. You can use as many of those guys as you can get," said weak-side linebacker Brian Simmons. "When there 's a guy out there like that, you've got to at least look at him. There aren't that many that are out there."
Gildon, who turns 32 on the first day of training camp, spent the practice mainly with the defense on the sidelines. No matter what happens, the Lewis era gave Bengaldom another sight they thought they'd never see with Gildon, one of their most respected rivals down through the years, watching practice in Bengals' togs.
The visit suggests that the Daryl Gardener watch could now be over in a contract that appeared to get held up after his physical and not because of negotiations. Because the Bengals don't allow visiting free agents to talk to the media, Gildon was off limits. But Anderson freely talked about his old foe and endorsed the concept.
He recalled that Gildon beat him all three times on third down as an end rushing with his hand on the ground. Although, he said one of them came on the last play of the Steelers ' 48-28 victory in 2000.
"A little bit of everything," said Anderson of Gildon's moves. "Just moves. Just knowing how to do it. He learned from guys like Greg Lloyd and the guys on that great Pittsburgh defense. One of his strengths is definitely getting after the passer. That's going to be a jump for any team, if you get a guy who knows how to rush the passer. A guy who has had success rushing the passer. It's probably something he can help our guys out with, learn something from a guy like that. At the same time, you just have another guy from an organization that has been winning for a long time."
During Gildon's decade in Pittsburgh, the Steelers won six division titles and went to four AFC championship games.