BY GEOFF HOBSON
With Florida State rookie receivers Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans all but assured of starting next week's regular-season opener, the Bengals work out a group of free agents after Thursday's practice with a keen eye on former Chargers receiver Charlie Jones. Jones, 27, a fifth-year player, would give them some of the speed and experience missing since Darnay Scott went down with a season-ending broken leg.
Jones was recruited to Fresno State from Lemoore, Calif., by Bengals receivers coach Steve Mooshagian and wouldn't mind teaming up with him again after catching 129 balls in San Diego.
"Coach Mooshagian was a great coach then and I'm sure he's a great coach now," said Jones after arriving in Cincinnati tonight. "He's been around. He knows I can make some plays. I think the Chargers made a mistake by cutting me and it's going to come back to haunt them."
The 5-8, 175-pound Jones also isn't very happy with Carolina. He said they offered him a contract after his workout Tuesday, but their people were split on signing him before or after Sunday. Before they could decide, they took former Titans receiver Isaac Byrd when he surfaced on waivers.
"They butted heads and I think they'll find out they made a mistake letting a proven receiver get away from them," said Jones, who says the dislocated hip that wiped out last season's first seven games is giving him no problems.
Bengals President Mike Brown said the club currently doesn't plan to replace a player on the roster with one of the guys working out. He probably wants to wait to sign players after the first weekend, when teams are no longer obligated to pick up the entire salary for the 2000 season.
With the Bengals keeping the injured Michael Basnight as their sixth running back, they would most likely have to cut another receiver to make room for Jones if they want him. Don't expect it to be the 6-3, 217-pound Danny Farmer. The rookie's first practice today since getting picked up on waivers from Pittsburgh confirmed for the Bengals that he's the big target they need in their receiver mix.
Mooshagian says Jones plays like he's 6-2 because of a vertical leap in the 42-inch range, but with the 5-10 Warrick and the 5-8 Yeast already in place the Bengals aren't looking to replace the 6-2 Dugans and the 6-3 Farmer. Which means the most vulnerable receiver could be 5-9 Damon Griffin.
"You need a mix of sizes at that spot," Brown said. "Farmer does everything we thought he would. He's a good sized receiver and catches well. He'll be smart and learn the patterns. It will take him a few weeks to catch up. It helps we have a bye this week." . . .
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It also helps Farmer's UCLA offense is similar to the West Coast scheme the Bengals run. He says it's much closer to his playbook than what is run in Pittsburgh. Maybe that's why after Farmer spent 30 minutes with a streamlined version of the playbook Tuesday night, Mooshagian called him, "if not the smartest receiver, one of the smartest wide receivers I've ever coached as far as picking it up and understanding it. All I told him to do was to go home and spend 15 to 20 minutes with it and it's amazing the retention he had."
Farmer shrugged; "It's more memorization than anything. I think I've got a photographic memory. I write it down, picture it, and then remember it."
Mooshagian likes his two big guys. He says Dugans has the ability to beat people deep if they underestimate his speed and he can catch the ball in a crowd. He likes Farmer's soft hands and quick mind. He just doesn't know who and how many he can keep.
"We've got options," Mooshagian said. "Charlie's a talent, that's for sure."
Jones could also do some returns for the club. He returned nine punts for an 11.4-yard average last season.