6-27-02, 12:30 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
After watching cornerback Artrell Hawkins perform a battery of agility drills the past two days, the Bengals training staff is confident he'll be on the field for the first practice of training camp on July 26.
Hawkins suffered a "high-grade," sprain of the knee's posterior cruciate ligament May 22 when he dove to make an interception.
But as of early this week, head trainer Paul Sparling had yet to talk to wide receiver Darnay Scott about his sore left shin that knocked him out of last month's mandatory minicamp and four weekly voluntary camps.
Scott has left a telephone message with at least one of the assistant coaches saying he's ready to play in his ninth season with the Bengals. But the club probably wants to examine him in person in order to evaluate his health. Although the Bengals aren't commenting on the speculation they would like Scott to lower his $3 million hit for 2002 ($2.5 million in salary and $500,000 in a Sept. 1 roster bonus), there appears to be no progress on that front.
Former Redskins receiver Michael Westbrook, who could replace Scott, also says he wants to be a Bengal. But even though the club
upped its offer a bit on Monday, Westbrook is still balking at what is believed to be a two-year deal that is below Derrick Alexander's $1.7 million per year deal signed three weeks ago.
Steve Zucker, Westbrook's agent, confirmed Wednesday that the Bengals raised the ante "slightly," but that it wasn't enough to close the deal for a player who feels his value is higher than what a June market usually dictates.
"Here's a guy who wants to be in Cincinnati and liked it there," said Zucker after he talked briefly with director of pro/college personnel Duke Tobin. "Other teams have called, but we've told them we're working on this."
With the Bengals offering Westbrook a signing bonus, a salary above minimum, and incentives to jack his pay in 2003, the Bengals feel they have put together an attractive package for this late in free agency by a team that appears to have the only contract on the table.
The Bengals seem to be making more headway with No. 1 pick Levi Jones. Although Ken Zuckerman was tied up with the NBA Draft Wednesday (his firm expected to have a handful of clients drafted including Gonzaga point guard Dan Dickau), Jones' agent said the sides "have made some progress. We've done that by really just agreeing to keep the lines of communication open."
The Bengals continue to talk to the agents for linebackers Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons about contract extensions, but those probably won't heat up until they resolve the receivers' question.
Hawkins has answered questions the past few days while showing Sparling and assistant Billy Brooks why players with posterior cruciate ligament injuries historically have few problems.
"As long as it is isolated to the PCL and doesn't involve any other ligaments," Sparling said. "And Artrell's injury is isolated. He's been out of town a few weeks and I was having doubts about him until I saw him and he looks fine. He's doing strengthening exercises as well as agility drills and within a week or two he should be back on the field working with Billy."
As Hawkins confidently leaped up on a training table from a standing jump, he didn't see any reason why he won't be suited up in four weeks.
"I've been running on the treadmill for 20 minutes with the speed set at 7.5," Hawkins said. "That's a pretty good pace."