Lewis sees wide-open roster

5-7-03, 7:55 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Before head coach Marvin Lewis breaks down the offense after two minicamps, let it be known that he thinks there are a list of about 30 names on both sides of the ball that could be here or not be here when they cut down the roster to 53 players for Opening Day against the Broncos.

Also, let it be known there are no locks and no sure things and that he doesn't believe in depth charts at this point in the offseason. This break down is simply a guide of who's who. All lists are purely alphabetical.

And, special teams are going to be the key.

"Not just playing, but playing his butt off on special teams," Lewis said. "There's a difference between just playing and playing your butt off. There are no such things as part-time players on special teams. You must make a significant impact on special teams. It's one third of the game, and you have to emphasize it as such. If I don't emphasize it, how can I expect the players to go out and play it that way?"

Here are some emerging generalities:

The move of Kevin Kaesviharn from cornerback makes the safety spot as wide open as fullback.

Here is a look at the offense with the defensive look to come soon:

QUARTERBACK: Starter: Jon Kitna. Last year's No. 3: Akili Smith. Key addition: First-round draft pick: Carson Palmer. College free agent: Tommy Jones.

Kitna looked comfortable in his first two camps as the Bengals' unquestioned starter, but the big question is if Palmer or Smith is the backup. Smith has looked good. And despite the expected adjustment to the playbook, Palmer looked the way the No. 1 pick in the draft should look. Plus, Palmer gets his $11 million now. Smith got it four years ago. But Lewis isn't burying Smith and says it won't be a call based on money. Smith is, after all, the only backup that knows the offense, and is very much in this thing, and Lewis knows his rough road. P> "Jon had a good camp, and I think Akili is battling," Lewis said. "That's good to see. He's doing everything that's asked of him. He's spending the extra time."

What the Bengals liked about Palmer this past weekend is that he arrived as advertised. No. 9 turned out to be the No. 3 from USC they had scouted exhaustively through two coaching staffs and six months.

"That's the guy we drafted. We drafted a guy with great stature and sense for playing quarterback," Lewis said. "He's been trained to play quarterback all his life. He knows the reads. He knows where the ball should go. He feels the pressure in the face. The one thing he has to learn once you put the ball down in the NFL, you better run because there is no stopping and re-load. He just has to learn the speed of the game. Once you break down in the pocket, you have to make a decision to get rid of the ball or get your butt down and go. He just has to learn when to fold them." **

WIDE RECEIVERS: Last year's starters:Chad Johnson, Peter Warrick.Holdovers:* Rn Dugans, Danny Farmer, T.J. Houshmandzadeh. *Key acquisition: * Thid-round draft pick Kelley Washington. Fee agent: Kwazen Leverette. Colege free agents: James Adkisson, Chesley Borders, Adam Ziesel.

This group got banged up last weekend. Washington (ankle) and Farmer (hamstring) only had one practice, and Houshmandzadeh surfaced Sunday with a cast on his wrist but said he'll be back for next month's mandatory camp. Washington couldn't flash and Farmer couldn't improve on last month's camp, where it looked like he caught everything but a cold.

Lewis liked Washington's size and speed, but he reminds people that the rookie is in an experienced field that isn't going to roll over.

"He didn't get overwhelmed and Kelley has a lot of physical ability, but he has some ground to make up," Lewis said. "One thing was the way T.J. rose to the occasion and Peter raised his game. They want to be the guy. They've been here. They know what to do. Chad has had an outstanding offseason. He's worked real hard. He's getting focus on the details of what his job is and he's getting better."

Keep five or six wide receivers? This is where Lewis raises the special teams card, and Dugans has already showed him why he's considered the teams leader.

"Ron has great value on special teams. You can see him do quality work on special teams and there's no reason to think he won't continue in that way. He's a guy that has great value, so the other guys, in order to stay, they have to raise their ability to his game."

TIGHT ENDS: Last year's starter: Matt Schobel. Conventional wisdom starter via free agency: Former Falcon Reggie Kelly. Holdovers: Sean Brewer, Derek Smith, Tony Stewart.

Lewis likes the competition here. All five have been regular participants in the offseason workouts.

"Reggie has elevated the position, and Schobel did some good things last year," Lewis said. "Tony Stewart has come in and picked things up. I think the offseason has helped him tremendously with the burst he's playing with. He's got size and he can run. Brew and Derek are doing a good job with what we're trying to do. The competition at tight end is impressive."

RUNNING BACKS: Starter: Corey Dillon (OK, one lock). Holdovers: Brandon Bennett, Rudi Johnson. Free-agent pickup: Ray Jackson.

As usual, Dillon showed up fit and feisty, although publicly taking responsibility for missing last month's voluntary camp was bigger than any practice. Lewis isn't going to let Bennett and Johnson off easy. He's impressed with the University of Cincinnati's Jackson.

"He's come in and picked things up and knows how to do it and I like his tempo of play," Lewis said. "I think he can be a contributor on special teams." **

FULLBACK: Another move:Chris Edmonds.Veteran move:* Wiver wire pickup Mike Green. *Draft move:* Fouth-round choice Jeremi Johnson. Fee-agent move: Terry Witherspoon.

Gone are Lorenzo Neal and Nicolas Luchey, but Lewis sees a lot of potential while trying to fill the void four different ways. Edmonds, the former linebacker and tight end, is on his third position, but Lewis is encouraged. The big, athletic Johnson was no surprise from the tape, and Lewis isn't worried about his weight. Like the other two, the fate of Green and Witherspoon is to be decided by their physical play in games.

"Chris Edmonds is obviously the guy right now out in front of the pack," Lewis said. "He's done a great job of learning what we're doing. He's so athletic and he's picked everything up. What we don't know is the physical part of the game and that's what is going to separate guys, and then how guys contribute on special teams."

As for Johnson, Lewis said, "It wasn't too big for him. It looked like he belonged."

OFFENSIVE LINE: Mini-camp starters: RT Willie Anderson, RG Matt O'Dwyer, C Mike Goff, LG Eric Steinbach, LT Levi Jones. Holdovers: G-C Rich Braham, C-G Brock Gutierrez, G-T Victor Leyva, G-T Scott Rehberg, C-G Thatcher Szalay. Draft move: T Scott Kooistra. College free agents: RT Belton Johnson, LT Garry Johnson, C Dustin McQuivey.

The key here for Lewis is versatility equals value.

"When you're not a starter as an offensive lineman, your value comes in what you can do," Lewis said. "Everybody has to have a role."

That's why they are so pleased to re-sign Braham, because he can play three spots. Steinbach, the second-round pick, could get them through a game at tackle if he had to. Kooistra has been talked about as a possible guard-tackle, but maybe not.

"That's something he would have to learn," Lewis said. "We've got guys here, Leyva, Brock, Rehberg, Szalay. We've got some of that already in some of the other guys who really haven't had an opportunity to get out there and play yet, so that's going to be the fun of training camp."

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