Mr. Battaglia goes to Washington

12-10-01, 6:10 p.m.

Updated: 12-11-01, 11:00 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

What a 24 hours for Marco Battaglia.

Battaglia, the tight end cut by the Bengals Monday, found himself back in the playoff hunt Tuesday when the 6-6 Redskins claimed him.

Battaglia, a six-year veteran, would have been a free agent had he cleared waivers. But the Redskins had the worst record of the three teams that claimed him and on Tuesday night he was sitting in Kennedy Airport in New York waiting for a flight to Bengals East.

Battaglia said he's looking forward to seeing old Cincinnati teammates Ki-Jana Carter and Dan Wilkinson.

"It's still kind of all surreal to me," Battaglia said. "It's tough when you've been one place your whole career. I was talking to (injured Bengals tight end) Tony McGee today and I told him I feel like I'm leaving my wounded Marine partner."

But Battaglia said he's looking forward to playing for coach Marty Schottenheimer.

"As a player, it's always nice to be wanted," Battaglia said. "He's the kind of coach I'll enjoy playing for. A no-nonsense kind of guy who wants you to get it done and that's it. I'm not sure what their situation is at tight end, but I'm just glad to have a job and I hope I can contribute soon."

A month ago, Battaglia was coming off a four-catch game in the best season of his NFL career. On Monday, the Bengals released their second-round pick from the 1996 draft.

"One day, you've got a streak of 88 straight games," Battaglia said, "the next, you're looking for a job. I'm a little disappointed. I spent six years of my life in Cincinnati and I thought I was contributing this year. I thought I helped us get some wins. I would liked to have had the opportunity to at least get a contract offer from them, but I guess it wasn't to be."

Battaglia, a free agent at the end of the season, thought the Bengals had finally put him in an offense that fit his catching skills this year. But the Bengals, who had drafted Sean Brewer in the third round this past April and had McGee under contract for another season, didn't make a move to re-sign him.

Even though he was one ball away from tying his career high of 14 catches when he had an attack of appendicitis the day before the Nov. 18 game against Tennessee. After surgery, the Bengals stunned him when they shelved him for the season on the injured reserve/non-football illness list.

Battaglia, the Queens native who was popular with his teammates, thought then and still does that he would be back in a week or two. But the club couldn't be sure he might be out four weeks and they couldn't go that long with just two tight ends. Little did they know after they

shelved Battaglia that McGee and Brad St. Louis would join Brewer and Battaglia on injured reserve in the next 20 days.

Battaglia was cleared this past Friday, nearly three weeks to the day of the attack. He can now sign with any other team but the Bengals,

"The timing of (the appendectomy) was just unlucky because it was so late in the week," said Duke Tobin, a director of pro/college scouting for the Bengals. "We already had the game plan with the tight end in it and we weren't sure how soon he'd be back. He's certainly not out of the realm of possibility for us after the season. But a realist would say he'll go somewhere else and get a fresh start."

Battaglia, who couldn't go on injured reserve because it wasn't a football injury, has appeared to understand the move. Especially since the Bengals could have opted to leave him on IR/NFL for the rest of the year without giving him the rest of his $600,000 salary or the chance to go to another team. The Redskins have to pick up his salary.

"I appreciate Mike (Brown) paying me for the past four weeks," Battaglia said. "They didn't have to do that. I guess they didn't think I was going to heal that quickly, but I knew I would. I guess I ran into some bad luck after being able to play in 88 straight games."

The 6-3, 249-pound Battaglia, who led the nation's tight ends with 69 catches as a Rutgers senior, leaves the Bengals with 70. They saw him mainly as an excellent receiver who wasn't a great blocker, but Battaglia never went after them publicly for not finding a consistent way to use him.

Ironically, new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski arrived this year with an offense that fit Battaglia's game with an H-Back position. But the Bengals are clearly grooming youth the rookie Brewer and third-year fullback Nick Williams for that role.

"Bob gave me a break that I needed," Battaglia said. "We were just getting to the point where he was getting me in the offense and I thank him for the opportunity he gave me."

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