7-26-01, 5:00 a.m.
Updated: 7-26-01, 1:10 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Tight end Marco Battaglia's knee injury means rookie Sean Brewer and the Bengals' prized three-receiver set are going get a little more exposure in Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage.
It also looks like quarterback Jon Kitna is going to get the first chance to run those sets in a scrimmage here at Georgetown College divided into four quarters of 10 snaps each. During his Thursday news conference, coach Dick LeBeau said Kitna will probably take the first 10 snaps, followed by Scott Mitchell, Akili Smith and Scott Covington. Kitna and Smith will probably each work behind the first offensive line. After Mitchell took 69 snaps and Kitna and Smith each 68 during the first week of training camp, LeBeau didn't want to read any significance into his rotation.
"It meant they were very, very closely graded," LeBeau said. "It was too close to call from the coaches' standpoint, so I just made the determination and that's probably the way it will go."
Battaglia, who has never missed a game in his five NFL seasons, is out two to three weeks with a slight cartilage tear in his right knee that is set to be repaired
Thursday morning in an arthroscopic procedure that takes him out of next week's pre-season opener.
But Battaglia's intense battle for a roster spot doesn't appear to be jeopardized by an injury trainer Paul Sparling termed "degenerative."
"We should have him back for three pre-season games," said Bengals president Mike Brown. "That shouldn't affect his chances."
Battaglia still looks to have a leg up on making the team despite the presence of Brewer, but offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski (maybe Battaglia's biggest fan) says the Bengals will look a little different while Battaglia is out.
"That takes us a little bit out of the two tight-end, one- back package and a little more into two backs, and one-back, three wide receivers," Bratkowski said.
It will also get more snaps for Brewer, the third-round pick who hopes to be cleared for Thursday after missing Wednesday and most of Tuesday with a grade one concussion.
"That will force us to get Brewer some work and maybe force feeding him will help him catch up on some things," said tight ends coach Frank Verducci, who didn't have Brewer at most of May camp because of NFL rules.
Battaglia, who didn't start complaining about his knee until a few days ago, had a MRI Tuesday night and will have the surgery done by associate team doctor Angelo Colosimo.
SIDES DUG IN:** Two more first-round picks Wednesday opted for the two-tiered signing bonus at Nos. 9 and 10. But the word has been passed here to the coaches not to expect Justin Smith any time soon as the Bengals insist on structuring the contract with a one-time bonus.
Bengals President Mike Brown argues the club is offering Smith at No. 4 more than the $14 million deal inked by No. 6 Richard Seymour, who has a two-tiered bonus, and that money is money no matter the structure.
"You can do it a few ways and we would prefer to do it this way," Brown said. "Since we're the ones paying it, maybe that should matter. The money we're offering
year by year and total is more than Seymour gets, as it should be.
"It's the way we've done business for over 30 years," Brown said. "We don't feel it has to be different this year just because somebody's come up with a bright shiny toy. The result is the money
gets to our guy the way it should get to him and we're going to stand by that."
Brown is standing by the notion that this year's rookie pool shouldn't be violated because of salary cap limitations for just this year that restrict the bonus. It's believed that Jim Steiner, Smith's agent, is just as adamant about bringing home a two-tiered bonus, especially since all four picks signed in the top 10 have the double bonus.
THIS AND THAT: It was a perfect day for kickers to show their wares on kickoffs because they had the wind to their backs and it was about 90 degrees again.
Kicker Neil Rackers responded by drilling kicks of 89, 84 and 87 yards. Figure that 74 yards puts it four yards deep into the end zone and there was some serious yardage supplied.
But Jim Lippincott, director of pro/college scouting, said kicker Richie Cunningham may have been even more impressive because his hang time was consistently about 4 seconds on kicks usually between 72 and 74 yards. Rackers' hang time ranged from 3.69 to the 4s.
Punter Will Brice, who needs to kick off well to edge Daniel Pope, ran a distant third with decent hang time but short kicks. . .
The Bengals had their first night off Wednesday since camp began last Friday, but they were looking at a midnight curfew. . .
LIVE ACTION: It was bound to happen. Defensive tackle Oliver Gibson and left guard Matt O'Dwyer continued their wars from previous years and mixed it up Wednesday in training camp's first series of full-fledged fights.
Maybe it didn't happen until now because O'Dwyer missed the previous two days with a sore ankle. Gibson, who has a tendency to irk the offensive
line with enthusiasm that the line thinks can be too rough at times for the quarterback or running back, also battled centers Rich Braham and Brock Gutierrez.
One of the many ways LeBeau's camp is different than the Bruce Coslet regime surfaced at the end of Wednesday's practice, when
the last handful of plays were live. Coslet would spring live contact on the team by saying before a particular snap, "OK, this is live," and then doing it again a few plays later. LeBeau told the team before practice that there would be a set number of live plays at the end.
"Last time I looked, this is a physical game," LeBeau said. "If you're going to engage in contact, you better practice it.
I don't know how they did it (before)," LeBeau said. "We want our running backs to get bounced around and the defensive backs and linebackers to get used to getting into position. . .We'll do a lot of it Saturday and we may do some more of it before Saturday."
As for Gibson, LeBeau said the guys he has to worry about are those not going hard and he appreciates him because, "you know he'll be in the middle of it Sunday afternoon."