6-17-04, 11:30 a.m.
6-17-04, 2:45 p.m. Updated:
6-18-04, 6 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Jason Gildon dined with the Reds, broke bread with Rudi Johnson, and studied his potential role as the Bengals' newest pass rusher while watching an on-field coaching session in his whirlwind tour of Cincinnati that began Wednesday night, ended Thursday afternoon, and could produce a deal.
Gildon, the former Steelers linebacker, did everything but sign a contact. Yet did agent Peter Schaffer offer a hint Thursday night that the Bengals have the edge in what he terms a five-team derby?
Maybe. Maybe not. But he joked, "We're talking about cities like Green Bay, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati and we're looking at the most tropical."
Schaffer wasn't joking when he said Gildon enjoyed his visit, which is apparently his last on a free-agent tour following his release from the Steelers earlier this month. He has also visited Green Bay and Buffalo and Schaffer indicated the Bears and Steelers also are in it.
Gildon went to the Reds' victory over the Rangers Wednesday night with some of the Bengals' coaches. He spent some time with Johnson, another Schaffer client, and had a long post-practice conversation with former Steelers teammate and current Bengals tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes.
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. The Bengals may have around $1 million spare, since that would have been about Gardener's salary if he hit all his play-time milestones.
So Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis seems to be trying to give some of Gardener's money to another one of his old players. Gildon would bring 77 career sacks to a defense looking to increase its pass rush and a relationship that dates back a decade when Lewis was the linebackers coach in Pittsburgh and the Steelers took Gildon in the third round of the 1994 draft. While playing with veterans Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene, he became a key player in the club's famed "Blitzburgh," Super Bowl defense, and became a staple of a perennial contender that won six division titles and went to four AFC championship games during Gildon's 10 seasons.
The players certainly noticed Gildon's presence Thursday at Paul Brown Stadium, particularly one of his long-time rivals, Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson.
"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 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.
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."
ALMOST DONE:** Many of the veterans participated in their last on-field coaching session Thursday. The last one is scheduled for Friday, which will probably be like the first one back on May 5 with a mix of veterans and all of the rookies.
So the next time you see so many Bengals on the field is going to be July 31 for the first two practices of training camp. Right tackle Willie Anderson headed home to Atlanta convinced the Bengals are in literally good shape and on a track he never saw before the Marvin Lewis days.
"We've never really done that around here," said Anderson of Lewis scheduling as many voluntary workouts in June as in May.
"It puts us in position to peak going back up into training camp. We're only going to have a month in between, so football is still going to be fresh in the memory. Our condition will still be up, knowing what you have to do. It just kind of lets you know where you're at, what you have to work on before you get to training camp."
Anderson can tell his team has had more than a full year under Lewis. It arrived in better shape this trip, mainly because they know what Lewis is going to expect.
"You know how his practices are going to be," Anderson said. "Fast, intense, a lot of running and you have to be in shape to get through it. We do conditioning, but we do conditioning in practice alone. On the offensive line, you get yelled at if you don't run to the ball. Defense, you get in trouble if you don't run to the the ball. That's conditioning in itself. In the past, it was never like that. Guys train harder."
HUNLEY SCHOOLED: Bengals linebackers coach Ricky Hunley attends the second NFL-Stanford Program for Managers next week along with one executive from each NFL club. Hunley heads to the Stanford Graduate School of Business to study presentations on an array of subjects by Stanford professors and NFL executives, including four Pro Football Hall of Fame members.
A co-director of the program is Business School lecturer Bill Walsh, the 49ers' Hall of Fame coach who began his career under Paul Brown in Cincinnati. The agenda is designed to broaden the
participants' understanding of the "bigger picture" that guides the decisions at both the team management and NFL level.
The focus is on the enhancement of skills in finance, marketing, personnel, and negotiation. Among the classes are: "Salary Cap Management;" "Team Economics and Stadium Management;" "Foundations of Team Effectiveness;" "Marketing/Branding Principles;" "Negotiation Frameworks and Applications;" "Globalization Challenges in Sports" and "Sponsorship Challenges and Athletes."
Among other speakers are NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, Packers vice president of player finance and general counsel Andy Brandt, and NFL executive vice president of Labor Relations and chairman of the NFL Management Council Harold Henderson.