Heath, Bengals both cautious

5-20-02, 11:35 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Rodney Heath would like to get himself on the field for the last eight days of voluntary practices that begin Tuesday, but he and the Bengals know it can't be that way just yet.

Trainer Paul Sparling said Monday that Heath continues to rehab well from last season's serious hamstring injury, but the club is still looking at the start of training camp for his return. Which is terribly frustrating for the fourth-year cornerback, who thinks he is doing everything else his fellow corners are doing except playing in seven-on-seven and 11-on-11. But he wants to improve on his explosion before he gets out there.

"I'm doing pretty much all the

individual drills that the guys are doing," Heath said. "I've been backpedaling. I've been running. (Trainer) Billy Brooks has been throwing me some balls. There's no question in my mind I can get out there, but I know they're trying to be cautious and I have to go with them."

Heath has even worked against some of the wide receivers in the locker room in informal jousts on an imaginary line of scrimmage: "I've been able to knock them off and I know I can run with them."

One reason the Bengals are probably keeping Heath (and quarterback Akili Smith for that matter) on the shelf this month is to keep their roster options open. If they practice at all before Opening Day, they aren't eligible to go on the physically unable to perform list (PUP), which would keep them out of the season's first six games if their injuries don't respond. But there has been no indication that Heath or Smith won't be ready for the first practice at training camp on July 26.

DAY (AND NIGHT) TO REMEMBER: Dennis Janson, the estimable sports anchor for WCPO-TV Channel 9, has been calling plays in Cincinnati since 1971. But he can't remember a day like his station is going to have on Sept. 22. During the day, Channel 9 is going to broadcast the Reds' last game ever at Cinergy Field and then at night simulcast the Bengals' ESPN game in Atlanta.

The station plans pre-game packages to lead into both, with Janson going to Atlanta and Sports Director John Popovich staying in Cincinnati.

"It's the biggest thing that's happened to us in quite some time," Janson said. "When we were with CBS and had the NCAA (basketball) tournament, or when we had Ken Griffey Sr., on our staff during the '90 World Series, those were pretty big times, but this is all in one day."

Speaking of ESPN, even though Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon thinks he is a boring subject, the cable giant is coming to Cincinnati Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to shoot a "The Life," segment. Miking Dillon during one of this week's voluntary practices has been discussed.

EXTRA POINTS: The Bengals have yet to meet on the subject, but don't look for them to pursue recently-released Cowboys quarterback Ryan Leaf. Yes, Bengals President Mike Brown likes high-round quarterback prospects, but he's got one in Akili Smith who is already making minimum salary like Leaf will no doubt do. Plus, Brown would like to see Scott Covington get some kind of shot. . .

Brown shot down a trade balloon released in the "Trenton Times," over

the weekend that said the Bengals would probably be willing to trade for veteran Eagles tight end Jeff Thomason. But against the backdrop of rookies Sean Brewer and Matt Schobel set to take the field for the first time together Tuesday, Brown is committed to going young at the position and said he has no plans to trade for a veteran tight end. The Bengals know exactly how old Thomason is ten years after they signed him as a college free agent out of Oregon (32). . .

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