5-5-01, 7:20 p.m.
Updated: 5-5-01, 10:10 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Friday night, it was dancing. Saturday night, it was dinner and a show.
In his first minicamp as Bengals head coach, Dick LeBeau is making sure he's leaving his unmistakable stamp on this team.
LeBeau invited a group of former Bengals to Saturday's opening practice and to dinner at the team's facility. While the current players ate, LeBeau called up each alum to stand next to him while he said a few words about him. Then LeBeau introduced him usually with a zinger to applause.
"We talk about family. We preach family," LeBeau said. "We think our alums are part of that family and we want to introduce them to our current players and just let them get to know some guys that I'm very proud of for what they have done for the franchise and they in turn are still identified with us."
LeBeau, a coach on both Cincinnati Super Bowl teams, did two things with the dinner. He educated his team that there has been success here with the help of Pro Bowlers (Max Montoya, David Fulcher), undrafted overachievers (Ken Moyer), smart players (Dave Lapham, Jimmy Turner, Rick Razzano) and cult heroes (Ickey Woods).
LeBeau and Bengals President Mike Brown
also scored points with an alumni that has complained about feeling isolated from the team after their playing days.
When LeBeau called up Woods, he said, "If you thought I danced last night," referring to the head coach's Elvis appearance in front of the team meeting that opened minicamp.
Woods then did a few steps of the "Ickey Shuffle," to more applause.
"(LeBeau) gets it," said Lapham, the former guard and long-time Bengals radio analyst. "He's trying to build a family and every family has grand parents. He's crossing the generations. He's doing so many things right. He started to set the tone last year and now that he's had a whole offseason, I think you can see all kinds of stuff."
Other alums who showed were Jim Breech, Eric Thomas, Solomon Wilcots, Mike Martin, and John Simmons. LeBeau also introduced Bengals all-time receiving tight end Rodney Holman, the newest addition to the coaching staff as the assistant strength coach.
"They ought to do more of this," said left tackle John Jackson, the Cincinnati prep product after dining with his boyhood heroes. "These guys should have a better idea of the history of this team."
LeBeau plans to have more get-togethers, with the next one slated for training camp.
"I think it makes a big difference for new guys if they get to meet the old players," Thomas said. "I think the organization has been going through a transition period with the move over here to the new stadium and they're sort of saying now we do respect how well and how hard those guys played and really helped build this place."
As the dinner broke up, Lapham found himself talking to linebackers Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons. Montoya embraced Richmond Webb in a Pro Bowl hug. Craig Yeast was talking to his clone from the '80s in Martin. Holman encouraged Sean Brewer, the rookie tight end taken in the third round. Wide receivers coach Steve Mooshagian spoke with Woods about their overlapping days in Fresno.
"I thought it was great, it was a great thing to do," said one of the guys who clapped the longest and laughed the loudest at the funny memories.
And then Mike Brown went to tell LeBeau so.
DEPTH CHARGES: LeBeau told his players to ignore the depth chart, but free safety Darryl Williams couldn't help notice he's listed second behind Chris Carter after a season Carter started the last 10 games at strong safety and Williams started every game at free.
Cory Hall, benched in favor of Carter, is listed as the starter at strong safety again, although LeBeau is downplaying the move as having some flexibility back there.
The Bengals have high regard for Williams and his productivity. But this is the time of the year to find out about other people, too. Williams, 31, has 136 NFL starts and thinks he has some more left.
"Being in the league this long, nothing really surprises me," Williams said. "If I know me, that will be changing. All I can do is work hard. Competition never hurt anyone. (LeBeau) is going to give everyone a shot and that's the way it should be. As long as the best 11 are playing."
Cornerback is also not set in stone. Robert Bean got the nod at left corner, backed up by Mark Roman, and Rodney Heath lines up at right corner, backed up by Artrell Hawkins. Tom Carter, last year's starter, is running third team on the left.
Another starter from last year, left tackle Rod Jones, is running third team. He's behind starter Richmond Webb and backup John Jackson.
Nick Williams is the starting fullback with Clif Groce still sidelined with the sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee. Groce said it is healed, but that things are going to be taken slowly.
Vaughn Booker is starting in front of the newly signed Kevin Henry at left end.
The only sure thing at quarterback is Scott Covington is clearly the fourth guy and judging from his lack of snaps Saturday, he thinks the writing is on the wall.
Covington hasn't been told anything, but he knows in this situation, "sooner is better than later. You always want to know what your status is sooner than later."
SCOTT CONFIDENT: Wide receiver Darnay Scott's return from his Aug. 1 broken leg was restrained, but hopeful. LeBeau plans to keep him out of coverage situations this weekend, and Scott decided not to run the 40-yard dash, "because I don't think I can turn it over fast enough yet."
But Scott did work in the individual drills and some team stuff when the offense worked against bags. He admitted his legs got a little wobbly until he got used to his first practice in nearly a year. He says he'll have no problem regaining his home-run speed, and figures losing six pounds will get him sharper.
FACTS OF CAMP: Left guard Matt O'Dwyer continues to be the strongest Bengal (and maybe NFL player), hoisting 275 pounds 36 times, declared a team bench press record by Bengals strength coach Kim Wood.
No. 1 pick Justin Smith said he did it 18 times, but the defensive end's more impressive feat Saturday was running the 40-yard dash in the 4.74-second neighborhood against the wind on a slow Astroturf track.
Anything faster than 4.6 seconds Saturday was said to be flying, a feat accomplished by rookie wide receiver Chad Johnson in the 4.55 range. Apparently Oregon State teammate and fellow rookie receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh was a little faster. The fastest 40 appeared to be clocked by rookie free agent receiver Ramondo North of North Carolina A&T in the 4.4 range.
Rookie running back Rudi Johnson, the fourth-round pick from Auburn, didn't run the 40 because of tightness in his hamstring.
DAY OF SMITHS: Quarterback Akili Smith said his throwing arm got a little tender during Saturday's practice. Since he started throwing with the receivers back in mid-March, he's been the only quarterback most of the weeks and has thrown a ton of balls.
Justin Smith, the starter at right end on his first day in the NFL, wasn't getting too excited about a practice not in pads. He admitted Webb and Jackson are bigger and quicker than most college left tackles, but he also said, "I think I did what I did in college and got off the ball quickly."
Smith's quickness was confirmed by LeBeau, right tackle Willie Anderson, and the Akili Smith pass Justin Smith knocked down at the line of scrimmage.
SIMMONS BACK: The return of middle linebacker Brian Simmons wasn't as noisy as Scott's return, but it was just as important and effective.
Simmons, who missed all but three quarters of last season with torn knee cartilage, participated in everything and got high marks from everyone but himself.
"I just didn't feel as smooth," Simmons said. "But I think everyone feels that way after the first day."
LEBEAU TAKE: For the most part, LeBeau was pleased with the conditioning. He said he felt good about his offensive tackle position watching practice, but also "We're not ready to play a National Football League game. I think we could have a little better upper respiratory training in some areas, but it still looked very good to me.
"The players, for the most part, that may be a pound or two over are guys that I would trust to lose the weight. But we won't trust them. We will encourage them to do so."
As for his Elvis act on Friday, LeBeau said, "I'd like to tell you there was some great philosophical message behind, but it was just something between the players and myself. To let them know we're going to work hard, but this is a minicamp and nobody's going to get cut during these three days. It's a way of saying, 'Let's go to work, let's have a focus, but let's have some fun too.'"
FISHER CUT: The Bengals stunned Charles Fisher and the rest of the cornerbacks when they released him before Saturday's first practice of minicamp.
Fisher, a second-round draft pick in 1999, is now officially in the Ki-Jana Carter file. He never played a full quarter for the Bengals, tearing up his knee in the final seconds of the first quarter during the '99 opener and never dressed for another game.
Fisher passed Saturday morning's physical, but not the club's take on his competition at the position. By cutting Fisher now, the Bengals only pick up about $110,000 under this year salary cap.
"The Bengals were good to me. I can't say they were unfair," Fisher said. "But I think they could have let this ride out a little bit longer. I think I'm ready. I can jump higher and run faster than some of the guys we've got. I really thought I was going to put on a show this minicamp."
Fisher, 25, the 33rd pick in the '99 draft out of West Virginia, suffered one of the most devastating knee injuries the Bengals have ever seen when he tore three ligaments.
"His ability level would be less than those that are out there," said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel.
"It was just time to part," Lippincott said. "Personally and professionally, it was hard. He was emotional and I was emotional. We like him. He tried so hard to get back. What he's going to be able to do speed and quickness wise with the condition of his knee, it's time to really consider if this should be his profession."
Fisher said if he can't hook on with another club, he'll go into coaching. But he's not ready to do that yet.
"I disagree with them," Fisher said. "Not only do I feel like I could have competed with the other guys, but I could have earned a spot. I worked so hard to get to this point. I know I can say I did everything I had to do."
Now the corner spotlight is on the Big Five, of which there is no clear-cut starter among Bean, Heath, Roman, Hawkins and Carter. Bean and Heath finished the season with injuries and Carter and Hawkins got benched.
The Bengals also waived rookie free-agent fullback Kalani Sitake of BYU after he failed the physical.