LeBeau drafts identity

4-22-01, 9:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

This 2001 NFL Draft proved to be a nightmare for Bengals equipment manager Rob Recker and his assistant Jeff Brickner when it comes to the stitching of the names on uniform jerseys.

The Bengals took three Johnsons (wide receiver Chad, running back Rudi and linebacker Riall) and a Houshmandzadeh (T.J.).

But it was a draft that Dick LeBeau stamped with his own name after completing his first stint in a war room as an NFL head coach.

After nearly 30 seasons as an assistant coach in the league, LeBeau had a pretty good idea what he wanted as the Bengals went for speed, toughness, and productivity designed to put both sides of the ball on the attack while reviving the league's worst pass offense.

Irony of ironies?

In his first draft as a head coach after 42 years on the defensive side of the ball, LeBeau's team took five offensive players of seven choices.

"It had to be (an offensive draft)," LeBeau said.

"We already helped our defense in free agency."

"He looks for athletic ability, not necessarily need and an example of that is Rudi Johnson," said Bengals President Mike Brown of the club's fourth-round pick. "He wants people who are effort guys. Perhaps the best example of that is Justin Smith. You talk with him and he's a real substantial guy."

How did it all go?

Opinons are like networks. Everyone has one. CNNSI and CBS Sportsline ripped it because of the lack of a left tackle, the "reach," for San Jose State tight end Sean Brewer in the third round, and both hinted at Chad Johnson's legal problems.

But the Bengals said they "thoroughly investigated," Johnson's off-field missteps and don't see them becoming
a pattern or causing him to miss any time on the field. And ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., called the Johnson pick the first steal of the second round.

Plus, ESPN analysts Vinny Cerrato and Billy Devaney, former NFL player personnel directors, said the Bengals had the best draft in the AFC Central.

"If you had put these names in front of me three days ago," LeBeau said, "I would have been as happy as I am now."

Brown said it was a pleasure being in the draft room with LeBeau because he picked his spots and made his arguments crisply. Brown ran the draft, but didn't make the call until both nodded in agreement and had support from other factions in the room.

Like with Auburn running back Rudi Johnson in the fourth round first thing Sunday morning. A big part of the room wanted an
offensive lineman, a big need not yet touched Saturday.

But in the middle of the stalemate, LeBeau's eyes it up at Johnson's productivity and the SEC MVP award while recalling tape of Johnson's big legs banging out tough yardage.

Back on Saturday night in the third round, LeBeau openly admitted he pushed for Brewer and defended the choice to an unforgiving media.

"The best player available happened to be an offensive player ," LeBeau said. "The choice of running back. The tight end pick, quite honestly, is part of my pushing. I wanted that guy. I wanted a speed tight end who could get vertical and he was the fastest tight end in the draft. We went off our evaluation of these people and we make no apologies for taking that young man where we took him.

"We had him rated as a top prospect," LeBeau said. "He's a junior college kid that played a couple of years at tight end. But he's athletic and fast and we want to put pressure on the defense in the pass, so he fits what we want to do. We want to give our quarterbacks the same weapons that everybody else has. Well, you have to build that."

LeBeau wouldn't say last year's 4-12 team lacked toughness. But he did make a point of saying the one thing he wanted to take out of the weekend was hard-nosed players.

The thinking even came down to the last pick. Brown said LeBeau set a tone for the room that the other coaches picked up on. When a defensive position coach sensed where the wind was blowing in the seventh round, he backed off and said, "Then take the guy that's going to score touchdowns."

So the pick was the 6-2, 205-pound Houshmandzadeh, a guy LeBeau described as tough, physical, can run and has no fear over the middle. OK, Chad Plummer is already here, so let him beat this guy out.

How did it go?

No one will know for at least two more years. They didn't get a left tackle and they didn't get a cornerback.

But LeBeau thinks they drafted some identity.

"We're going to be an attacking team," LeBeau said. "Aggressiveness. Attacking. The attack mode. An effort-down playing mode. Those are the players we are going to seek and we will pursue them and these players have that trait."

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