4-22-02, 3:00 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The most influential man in the life of Levi Jones was the minister rustling him awake at 6 a.m. for a 9:30 a.m. service a block from their home.
So when Jones walked into his 3:30 p.m. news conference Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium at exactly 3:30 p.m., his grandfather who passed last year seemed to be saying that the work ethic he gave his daughter's youngest child is still intact.
Which is why the Bengals drafted Jones, 22, with the 10th pick in the NFL Draft. They think he has arrived in plenty of time to replace 35-year-old Richmond Webb at left tackle. Which will probably be at some point this season.
As he walked down to the news conference room Saturday to announce the selection of Jones, head coach Dick LeBeau, the Bengals jukebox in sweats, found himself revising an old Three Dog Night tune.
Instead of "Eli's Coming," LeBeau crooned softly, "Levi's Coming."
Which is about 10 years too late, because that's how long they have sought a long-term successor to Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz.
"About 40 or 50 times," said Jones, when asked how many times he has heard that name since the Bengals picked him.
Right tackle Willie Anderson, who thought he should have been the successor to Munoz when he was drafted No. 10 in 1996, started at left tackle in his ninth game as a rookie.
"I don't know how long it's going to take him," Anderson said Sunday. "But he's lucky he's going to be able to watch a guy like Richmond. I was lucky because Joe (Walter) took me under his wing even though he knew I was going to take his job."
Jones wore the same number No. 78 at Arizona State that Munoz carried into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But Jones wore it in honor of Bruce Smith because Jones began his college career as a defensive lineman.
And Munoz's first advice to the new kid in town is that the defensive ends he'll be facing every week might as well be Bruce Smith.
"To me, that was the toughest adjustment," said Munoz Sunday. "The physical part was a big adjustment, but the mental part was the biggest thing. There are no weeks off. One week it was Bruce Smith, the next it was a guy like (Dexter Manley). It doesn't let up for 16 weeks and it's just not that way in college."
Munoz is impressed by the endorsement that Giants offensive line coach Jim McNally gave Jones over the weekend. The funny thing is that McNally was Munoz's position coach in Cincinnati and did the instructional video with him that Jones has watched for years.
The man who got Jones into Munoz, then the ASU offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto, is the guy who saw him play defense at Arizona State and said, "You like defense? Come with me and I'll make you a millionaire."
"He made us watch that film for hours and hours," Jones said. "He wanted us to be like Munoz. (The one thing he learned) just basically is his overall tenacity to play the game. He's a big, athletic man who played hard. He played with a passion."
Munoz will be pleased that's what Jones took from the tape.
"I think we made that tape in the last couple of years of my career. '91, '92," Munoz said. "I'm flattered people are still watching it and getting something out of it."
Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander put on his own show when he introduced Jones with a 10-minute narration of Jones' video highlights.
Alexander wanted to show Jones' attributes. High effort, body control, power at the point, quickness, explosion, reach, balance, pulling. He also wanted to show things Jones has to work on: NFL technique and toning down an occasional slug at a defender.
"Richie Braham had this temperament in college," Alexander said. "Kenny Blackman. Mike Goff. Virtually everyone of our good players had the same trait. Defensive mentality. Sometimes aggressive. I like that. I can live with that. But you can't do it in the NFL. They're too fast."
Alexander gave Jones a public clinic on what he can expect early on.
"What are they going to do to you?" Alexander asked of the tackle-end stunt. "You're going to have to pinch inside because they're going to do every game known to mankind because they're going to think, "He's a dumb rookie and he ain't going to pick it up.' So you have to hang inside a little bit. Like you do right there. Extension with arms, balance, reach."
Alexander pointed out some of the unconventional techniques of a new offense that he thinks helped the draft gurus lower their grade on Jones, such as "stepping back off the inside foot and kicking to get a little more depth on a half-roll protection. You don't teach that in pro football.
"You can fix it, that's just the way the coach told him," Alexander said, and Jones said, "I'm coming in here as a guy who is going to do what the coaches say and do it the right way."
Jones deftly showed some arm extension when he deftly shoved aside two questions: When will you replace Webb in the starting lineup and Will you do a Justin Smith-like vow on Draft Sunday and say you won't hold out of training camp even though Smith missed all of training camp?
All Jones would say is he knows the Bengals took him at 10 because they expect him to make an impact, but he wouldn't get into when he thinks he can start.
As for a holdout Jones said his agent, Ken Zuckerman, is aware how important it is for an offensive lineman to be in on time.
Although some people panned the Jones pick as a sign the Bengals weren't going all-out in 2002 by taking a guy who will ease into the lineup instead of making an impact, Anderson isn't too sure about that.
"Richmond is getting near the end, so we're going to need that book-end tackle," Anderson said. "The only way you can truly win and get a little more recognition on the offensive ,line is to have two book-end tackles.
"I don't buy that stuff about drafting an impact player," Anderson said. "If you have to rely on rookies, you're in trouble. You've got to rely on the veterans you get in free agency and the guys you've got coming back. The core of your team is what should be putting you over the top and not the new kids."
Anderson is willing to help because Walter helped him at right tackle, although Anderson said he thought he should have stayed at left tackle after he played there his rookie year.
"They thought Kevin Sargent could play over there, but (neck injury) it's been in disarray until Richmond came this year," Anderson said. "Richmond settled the position down for the first time in a long time. We'll both help him, so he should have some help with that transition."