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Jones at his grinding best

Posted: 5 a.m.



TEMPE, Ariz. — While an elastic rope tugs Levi Jones back, he pulls away with easy strides in a slow shuffle that should relieve some of that early-season angst belching through Bengaldom.

Realizing that his knee is on a nervous fan's list of fears that includes wide receiver Tab Perry's hip, Chris Perry's ankle, and Roger Goodell's patience, the left tackle himself says here Tuesday, "Tell them Levi Jones is progressing well."

Here he is during his daily workout at Athletes' Performance Institute on the outskirts of Arizona State and this is Jones at his best as he pulls a towel hanging out of his shorts to dab his brow.

Always coming back from something. And this is a year of a lot of somethings as he rehabs from a second knee procedure, adjusts to a new left guard, changes his offseason conditioning program, and sounds like more of a leader in his sixth season with the loss of a clubhouse pro in Brian Simmons that he truly admires.

And, oh yeah, he deals with what he calls Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter's "cowardly assault by a coward" on him two weeks ago in a Las Vegas casino.

"Our leaders need to get together and promote team over the self atmosphere so this selfish thing we've had put on us for the past few years can be done away with," Jones says in between stretching drills with light weights.

First things first, which is the knee because, truth be told, he has no concerns about Porter when they meet this season because, "trust me, when we play Miami I have a lot bigger problems to worry about than Joey Porter," he said. "I'm going against probably the best defensive end in the league in Jason Taylor. I'm not going to be worried about Joey."

It sounds like he's not worried about the left knee that knocked him out of 10 games last season following surgery to repair meniscus damage, and he's encouraged four weeks since a second arthroscope cleaned it out and believes he'll be ready for the start of training camp with no setbacks. He stretches for a half hour, works his core with weights for a half hour, and does rehab exercises and some therapy for about another half hour.

"I'm not where I would be, obviously," Jones says. "If I was fully healthy I'd be going longer, spending about an hour more on the field and doing drills. But I'm getting there."

The Bengals have poured a lot of money into Jones to make sure he sticks around to protect quarterback Carson Palmer's blind side for six more seasons and rightfully so with $16.3 million in guarantees and $21 million In the first three years in an extension he signed just before the last training camp. He had a year good enough for the Pro Bowl in 2005 (but he was only voted an alternate) and his athleticism has continually negated the NFL's best pass rushers so effectively that the Bengals can get away with the unheard of luxury of rarely having to use another player to help him.

If there is concern out there about the injuries that are piling up (a scope on his right knee in 2003, a sore shoulder at the end of '05, a right ankle injury early last season), his work ethic can melt them.

"After I was able to play the way I did against Denver, I feel real good about it," Jones says of the next-to-last-game of the season. "And now after having this other surgery, I really don't feel like it's going to be a problem."

That wasn't the case after his Audie Murphy job in 2003 when he played just six days after a scope on torn knee cartilage with the Bengals in a playoff push. But it came at a high price because he says he never felt as badly during a season as he did in 2004.

"Terrible; that was a tough year," Jones says. "But this injury doesn't feel like that. This was a more problematic surgery, but so far it's not anything like I went through with the other one and to me that's a good sign so far."

Jones, who first went to Arizona State on an academic scholarship, can talk about the meniscus by saying things like, "It's shaped like a curve, like when you do a science project and you've got liquid in the vials."

Here's a guy that helped his grandfather build his church with their own hands and since his death Jones has donated money to remodel the kitchen, pave the parking lot, and install a basketball court.

Here's a guy the Saturday before his surgery last month who ran the first of his four youth football camps in Arizona, this one in his hometown of Eloy.

But here's a guy who's also got one of the longest mean streaks in the NFL. It's as much a part of his game as his agility ("It's what got me here," he said.), but he also knows it won't win him any popularity contests with the defense. And it has ticked his head coach at times.

"My mean streak has caused some problems too, on the team," Jones says. "I'm not taking any trash. I'm not going to take any trash from the defense and they're trying to coach them not to take any trash. It's going to be head butts. Sometimes it's a problem when you've got a left tackle that has a mean streak and you're tying to build a defensive identity.

"But it works out. As much as Coach Lewis roots for his defense I don't think he wants a left tackle that's a punk either. He breaks up my wildest, biggest fights in practice."

Jones' mean streak serves as the perfect foil for Porter's outlandish ego. Since he established himself in his second season in 2003, the 300-pound Jones pretty much contained the 250-pound Porter in those steel cage matches with Pittsburgh. Part of the reason critics ripped the Dolphins' signing of Porter is because he "disappeared" against elite tackles like Jones.

Jones says Porter has been baiting him for years off the field until finally a few weeks ago Jones says (and a police report concurs) that Porter and his entourage attacked him with punches. Jones also says he had two necklaces stolen in the incident "and they just mysteriously show up at the casino when someone turns them in a few days later," he said.

Porter has been cited for a misdemeanor in the incident, which a police report says was videotaped and shows Porter punching Jones in the face with a closed fist as well as several "unidentified males" attacking Jones.

"A cowardly assault by a coward," Jones says. "One versus seven, six from behind. The police report came out and told the truth. Joey Porter did not kick Levi Jones's ass. Basically what he did was walk up to me, get my attention talking trash while his boys jumped me from behind. They plotted the thing. He was shooting craps. I was playing blackjack. He saw me, there was no exchange before he just came up on me."

Jones said he was in Vegas a month ago with a mutual friend of theirs in a casino and Porter left the casino when he saw them.

"But when there are six and seven guys with him, he's brave now," Jones says. "Strength in numbers. I guess he felt like the numbers were with him. He's been doing this for years, telling everyone he's going to do this to me and do that to me."

Jones shrugs as he reclines on a rehab table, waiting to get a massage. He's concerned much more about other things, such as who is going to replace Eric Steinbach at left guard after the pair played together for four seasons.

He's also a bit anxious about heading to Cincinnati next week for Monday's start of offseason workouts. One of the stipulations of his new contract is that he works out with the club and strength coaches Chip Morton and Ray Oliver after six seasons of staying at home here at API.

"I don't know what to expect," Jones says. "Chip and Ray have done a good job with me during the season. I'm just not sure at what stage they're going to be at because I've already started some things."



Jones has been hearing that the man who replaced him at left tackle as a rookie, the 6-7, 340-pound Andrew Whitworth, or the 6-6, 360-pound Stacy Andrews is going to replace Steinbach at guard.

"I know whoever is going to be next to me is going to be a giant and not a 285-pound guy," Jones says. "I guess Whitworth is penciled in, but either guy is going to take up a lot more of my space than Steinbach. I've played next to Stacy and he's athletic as hell. It's not too much of a loss. Whit is more of a sturdy guy. He's going to be a fine offensive lineman no matter where he finds a home."

It was the presence of Whitworth that convinced Jones to take himself out of the Pittsburgh game. He says he made a mistake by practicing every day after returning in Denver, so when it came to halftime he had severe soreness.

"Paul Alexander told me that before I never would have taken myself out of that game," Jones says of his offensive line coach. "But we've never had a guy as good as Whit behind me, and I wanted to win the game. I felt like we had a better chance to win with him in there."

And he believes this team can win if it gets an attitude adjustment.

"We've got the ability to get to the Super Bowl," Jones says. "That's my only goal this season; to do whatever I can to get this team there. We've got 95 percent of our offense coming back. The hardest thing for me this offseason is letting Brian Simmons go with his work ethic and smarts and all the things he brings to the table."

Jones says Lewis is the guy that decides who are his leaders and says he's ready if tapped. Heading into his sixth season, turning 28 the last week of the preseason, and losing Simmons in the locker room, Jones senses he'll need to expand his role with his teammates.

"Whatever role Coach Lewis wants me to fill," Jones says. "We need some of the younger guys to step up, be smart, and take it game by game and focus on what we have to do."

He gulps some water and sits on a weight bench. Jones at his best. Grinding. Gritting. Coming back. The knee. The new regimen. The big money. Joey.

He smiles.

"Every year is no different in the NFL," Jones says. "There's pressure every week, never mind the extras."

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