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New scheme Battaglia's scene?

5-3-01, 4:10 p.m.


If there is one guy who is symbolic of where the Bengals have been and where they may be going, it's second tight end Marco Battaglia.

Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau has cranked the competition at several positions and with the drafting of San Jose State tight end Sean Brewer, Battaglia is getting severely pushed for a roster spot as he heads into the last year of his contract.

And after three head coaches, six starting quarterbacks, and just 57 catches in his five NFL seasons, nothing surprises Battaglia anymore.

"I never thought it would be like this," he said earlier this week. "Will I be back? Good question. I don't know."

There could be seven tight ends on the roster if free-agent Steve Bush, last year's No. 3 tight end, decides to sign before Saturday afternoon's practice.

But just when they are ready to bury Battaglia, here comes Bob Bratkowski's new offense, in which the second

tight end is more of a wide receiver instead of lining up next to the tackle as primarily another blocker.

"He was never designed to do that, but he got called upon to do it," said tight ends coach Frank Verducci. "He can be an open space guy and you can move him around and match him up on people and hopefully that's what he does best."

Battaglia has hid his frustration well. Here's a guy who caught 171 passes at some place called Rutgers, which is best known for keeping it on the ground in that 1869 opener against Princeton.

But after Battaglia arrived here via the second round of the 1996 draft, there has been more blocking than catching and that has frustrated people who think the 6-3, 252-pounder isn't being used correctly. Of course, there are those who also don't think Battaglia has helped himself, either.

Still, it's a new day for Bengals tight ends, although No. 1 Tony McGee seems ticketed to stay next to the tight end. The second tight end becomes more of a "move," player, which is moving in Battaglia's direction.

second guy in all the multiple two tight-end sets, you line him up in different places," Verducci said. "You motion him, and they never know where he's coming from. You can split him out and get him one-on-one on some people."

Battaglia approves with "That's more my style," but it's also the style of Brewer.

"I project him as able to do it," said Verducci of the "move," position. "He played some fullback at San Jose State and as far as their formations and as far as how they change formations with the tight end in motion, it's very similar to what we're talking about. So once he gets the terminology down, it should come naturally to him."

As Battaglia said, "We've only got 17 tight ends here," and the scary thing is he may be only 10 off.

There is McGee, Battaglia, Brewer and Brad St. Louis, an automatic roster guy because he's the long snapper. Then there are free agents Jason Gavadza, a Kent State product who is projected as a "move," player, and Kirk McMullen, a player who won't be here this weekend because he's in NFL Europe. And then maybe Bush.

So do you keep three, including St. Louis, or four, including St. Louis?

"The third guy is also the backup fullback who can do all the fullback things," said Verducci of the spot Bush played last year. " It comes down to who is better. The No. 3 tight end or the No. 2 fullback? Last year we didn't face that because (fullbacks) Nick (Williams) was young and Clif (Groce) was nicked up."

But it looks to be an issue this time around.

"I don't know, but I think this offense helps me," Battaglia said. "It's an amazing game, isn't it?"

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