Jackson tackles health

7-26-02, 7:50 p.m. Updated:
7-27-02, 8:50 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Suddenly, football isn't the most important thing on the mind of Bengals left tackle John Jackson even as training camp opened Friday.

Jackson, the dean of the Bengals, could face retirement because of a heart problem discovered during his training camp physical.

Jackson, the senior Bengal in age (37), NFL seasons (14), and playoff games (13), plans to undergo an angiogram Monday at Cincinnati's Christ Hospital. He spent Friday's first practice in a doctor's office.

"He had a marginally abnormal stress test that was repeated this afternoon in Cincinnati," said Bengals trainer Paul Sparling. "The same abnormalities were elicited and as a result John has asked us to be aggressive with it."

Because the angiogram involves a catheter, Jackson would be out two weeks if the exam showed no problems. But Sparling said if the test reveals some blockage around the heart that would require an angioplasty, Jackson would be out "a good amount of time and it would

have an impact on advising what he should do about his career.'

Jackson, a Cincinnati prep product from Woodward High School who went on to play at Eastern Kentucky and then on the Steeler teams that appeared in three AFC title games in the late '90s, attended meetings Friday night here at Georgetown College after arriving back from Cincinnati.

Stunned by the news, Jackson never saw it coming. He isn't exactly thinking about career decisions at the moment.

"We'll take care of it and just go from there," Jackson said, "That's the most important thing right now. My health. I'm not assuming anything right now. We're going to do some more tests and go from there.

"I'm just thinking about living one day at a time," Jackson said. "Because right now, that's where my mind is."

Jackson, who re-did his deal for one year to give the Bengals some cap relief, faces a deep field of tackles on the roster. He is the third left tackle behind Richmond Webb and No. 1 pick Levi Jones. But he is a favorite of head coach Dick LeBeau, he can also play right tackle, and in last season's finale he blanked Titans sack ace Jevon Kearse in relief of Webb.

The Associated Press reported Friday that Jackson's father, Samuel, died of a heart attack at 62 two months ago.

**

BROKEN RECORD:** You could hear quarterback Akili Smith's scream in Lexington when he dislocated the middle finger of his left hand taking a snap from backup center Brock Gutierrez in team drills Friday. He'll be back Saturday, but the frustration continues to grow for a guy who was getting his first action of any kind on a field with other players since he badly tore his hamstring Dec. 16 against the Jets.

"It's non-stop action with me around this place," he said as he walked to dinner with an ice bag on his hand. "It's the Akili Smith Show and I'm not even one or two.

"Just a freak accident," Smith said, "I guess it's both our fault. It's the hand pointed down. I can't miss any reps. I need everyone."

It just doesn't stop for a guy who lost out on last year's quarterback derby when shoulder tendonitis shelved him for the last two pre-season games. Observers thought Smith looked sharp and smooth given that he missed all of the May camps rehabbing. "My leg felt pretty good, my arm felt pretty good," he said after taking the last two or three snaps in each offensive set. Smith could have returned after the injury, but Scott Covington finished out the last few sets as a precautionary measure.

Jon Kitna and Gus Frerotte split the first 10 snaps or so of each set Friday in the first act of this year's quarterback drama with Frerotte's arm strength the one eye-opener. But Smith continues to grind.

"I'm not going down without a fight," Smith said. "If I'm going to be a thorn in people's side, then I'll be a thorn in people's side. I'm fighting until that last pre-season game. I don't know what God is telling me with all these injuries, but I'm going to keep going."

**

THE WAY WE WERE:** Frerotte hooked up with old friend Michael Westbrook Friday on a bomb down the left sideline that conjured up some big-play memories for the pair from their five years in Washington that ended in 1998.

"I'm going to run by cornerbacks no matter who they are, veterans or rookies. That's just the way it is. I went by Champ Bailey and Darrell Green all the time in Washington," he said.

Westbrook took heart in the welcome from his new teammates

after spending seven uneasy seasons with the Redskins. He recalled how when he arrived as a rookie that barely anyone talked to him as the high-priced fourth pick in the draft.

"I already feel like I belong, that I'm in the family," he said. "It was like that toward the end in Washington. We were pretty close."

Westbrook is still getting the Stephen Davis Fight questions from media and teammates and he knows he'll get them every day of his life.

"It will never go away," he said.

Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau is probably going to have to answer it just once and he did Friday.

" have talked to a lot of people about Michael. I think in Washington he had just one isolated incident, and his character had been good," LeBeau said. "For most of us, if we take the one negative thing that happened to us and focused on that we wouldn't look too good. But if we took it in balance with everything we've done in life, hopefully we find more good than bad, and I believe Michael's was a very isolated incident."

**

THIS AND THAT:** Incumbent Neil Rackers and rookie Travis Dorsch had an informal but spirited and even field-goal competition before practice. Observers thought they both hit in the range of 27-for-30. Rackers crushed one from 60 yards on the last one. . .CBs Rodney Heath and Artrell Hawkins returned

after rehabbing injuries. Hawkins, who sprained a posterior cruciate knee ligament in late May, had hoped to be farther along with his straight-ahead speed and ability to go all-out, "but I'm able to practice and do what I need to play. I just have to give it some time."

So does Heath, who officially ended at times torturous rehab when he stepped on the field Friday nine months after badly tearing his hamstring. The injury is thought to severely test his future because of the nature of his position, but trainer Paul Sparling and cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle saw nothing glaring Friday. Sparling said it will take a week or so to gauge how far he has come back.

"Guys are going to be running faster once they get used to the pads, but you figure that will hold up for Rodney, too," Coyle said. "He was in position on plays."

He stayed with rookie free-agent receiver Kwazeon Leverette on a long route ("The kid who was jumping over everybody making catches in minicamp," Heath said) and he came up a few times to cover the flat.

"I'm just trying to show that I can close on the ball and I know the defense," Heath said. "No one really got by me and I was able to use my technique. I didn't have any pain. I just have to make sure I stretch before I do anything."

Heath had one flash back Friday to the Oct. 14 injury against the Browns he suffered when he slipped on damp grass that was in the stadium shadows: "It rained (briefly) and I was thinking, 'Dry out that grass.'". . .

The Bengals won't talk to the agents for Brian Simmons and Takeo Spikes until they re-calculate their numbers after signing their top two picks and taking out the Sam Adams offer. Earlier in the week, Bengals President Mike Brown said the Adams' ship "has sailed."

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