How to find a find

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The name is Armegis Spearman.

From the University of Mississippi.

A-R-M-E-G-I-S.

"My aunt's very original and when my mom and my aunt get together, they're a wild combination," said Spearman today after the Bengals' workout at Spinney Field. "They came up with the name. It's original."

It more than likely spells the name of the backup inside linebacker the Bengals have been seeking for Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons for nearly two years since Tom Tumulty's career-ending knee injury.

But Bengals linebacker coach Mark Duffner calls Spearman, "MCI." Which is how you pull a serviceable NFL player out of the forest of college free agents. You call him so much, his roommate has your phone number memorized on the caller ID.

Indeed, Duffner is looking at the very real possibility of having his first two backers off the bench be Spearman and third-year man Adrian Ross, players not even invited to the NFL scouting combine. Never mind undrafted.

"(Duffner) called at least once a week, sometimes two, three times," Spearman said. "Yeah, he outrecruited the other teams. There were 21 teams interested. It wasn't because Cincinnati gave me more money. I came to the spot I was going to be the most comfortable with a good shot of making it."

For Duffner, a former college head coach at Holy Cross and Maryland, this was like the good old days. At The Cross, Duffner is the guy who charmed Gordie Lockbaum out of South Jersey, on to the cover of "Sports Illustrated" and smack in the middle of the Heisman Trophy race.

"Same thing," Duffner said. "If one guy calls you more than the other, where are you going to go? (Spearman) had other offers. He had better bonus offers. But I kept saying to him, 'How many linebacker coaches came to see you? Who's been talking to you?' Money can do it for only the moment. But what's the best chance to play?"

In the end, "The Gordie Pitch," outworked a charge by the man with the star - Jerry Jones _ and Spearman become a Bengal when Cincinnati more or less matched the Cowboys' offer. He got $10,000 to sign, but the deal was more than likely sealed during the last three rounds of the draft. That's when Duffner figures he called Spearman six times. On each call, Spearman thought he was getting drafted because teams were telling him they were taking him in 10 picks, five picks, the next pick.

Duffner can't tell you why noboby drafted him. Dick LeBeau, Duffner's boss on defense, thinks Spearman is one of the finest free agents he's seen in any year. Duffner had known about him for two years, after going to Ole Miss to scout Nate Wayne. After all, Spearman had a decorated career in the SEC, where he played extensively as a true freshman and led Ole Miss in tackles as a junior.

"Good kid, plays hard, good test score, has a lot of experience," Duffner said. "The most likely reason is there's only seven rounds and frankly there are some guys that shouldn't get drafted. You watch him play and he plays like a fourth-rounder. Of course, he hasn't hit anybody yet, but we like him."

The one thing the 6-foot, 250-pound Spearman will do is hit somebody. Maybe one of the reasons he didn't get drafted is because he moved from inside to outside linebacker as a senior after racking up 84 tackles in the middle during '98. Plus, he missed one game this past season with a hernia and badly sprained a knee ligament in his last game.

And the draftnicks said he's "not an instinctive player," (Joel Buchsbaum) and in certain games "didn't fill the inside running lanes," (Mel Kiper Jr.)

But Duffner likes his instincts, and how smooth and fluid he is getting to the ball The kid also has the confidence of a proven four-year guy in the SEC: "I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to do whatever I have to do out there (on the field), in there (the weight room), and up there (the classroom)."

For Duffner, the pitch didn't end on Draft Day. He told Spearman's mother, "I'm going to watch after him like you would." After today's practice, Spearman wandered into Duffner's office, where the coach told him to make sure he always didn't eat in restaurants while staying here for the informal workouts.

"Make sure you get some good food in you," Duffner said.

At least he didn't have to call him.

"He had the caller ID and he's got a cell phone so I told him, 'I'm not calling you Armegis anymore. It's MCI,' " Duffner said. "But he's not Takeo. I call Takeo 'Ohio Bell,' because he's got two cell phones. He's got them in holsters."

If all goes as planned, Spearman will be spelling Spikes, as well as Simmons.

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