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Notes: Back to a surprise?

Posted: 5:25 p.m.

All silent on the Chadstern front. At least 24 hours before the NFL Draft begins.

But two things have been loud and clear in the run up to the draft. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis says the Bengals are not trading Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson and they're going back to the deep commitment they had in the running game when they won the 2005 AFC North.

Despite televised pleas for a trade by Johnson and agent Drew Rosenhaus Thursday night that resembled the last minutes of a telethon, the major question appears to be if the Bengals will sit on defense for the fourth straight year in the first round or if they will respond to L'Affaire Chad by upgrading their running game with one of the draft's top backs.

The Bengals did their due diligence earlier in the month when they hosted Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois and Jonathan Stewart of Oregon, the backs thought to be rated behind Darren McFadden of Arkansas.

Most mock drafts have USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis matched with the Bengals at No. 9. But keep in mind the names of Kevin Carter, Sam Madison and Chris Gamble. Those are defensive players the Bengals mulled when they instead stunned the world with a trio of backs in Ki-Jana Carter in the first round in 1995, Corey Dillon in the second round in 1997, and Chris Perry in the first round in 2004.

"It wouldn't surprise me, I guess because you just have to look at 1988, '89, and '90," said Solomon Wilcots, a safety on those teams who has been stationed at Paul Brown Stadium this weekend for NFL Network. "Ickey Woods, Eric Ball, Harold Green, all in the second round even though they had taken (a running back) the year before."

The 5-10, 225-pound Mendenhall and the 5-11, 205-pound Stewart each qualify as the power backs the Bengals may be seeking to take the burden off Rudi Johnson coming off an injury-marred season. Each averaged more than six yards per carry in his junior year as Mendenhall rolled up 1,681 yards and 17 touchdowns and Stewart went for more than 1,700 and 11 touchdowns.

With no one quite sure if McFadden is going to slide because of the character issue, the Bengals have also investigated him with campus visits and interviews.

The Bengals didn't appear to be investigating any trades for Johnson Friday afternoon. On Tuesday they said they turned down a first-rounder this year and a third-rounder that could have turned into a first next year from the Redskins. A source outside the Bengals says Johnson has offered to pay back some money in exchange for a trade, but since that doesn't affect his $8 million salary cap hit this year and since the Bengals seem committed to the principle that he's still got four years left on a mutual agreement, the offer doesn't appear to have helped initiate more trade talks.

Which means if Johnson sits out, jacking up the running game with a vet-rookie bell cow tandem of Johnson and Mendenhall, or Johnson and Stewart could be the best answer for a depleted receiving corps.

BOOMER's IDEA: Via, former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason suggested on his radio show Friday morning that Johnson give back at least some of the $16 million Johnson has collected over the last two years.

Esiason knows all about getting traded from the Bengals. Later Friday, Esiason recalled how he spurred his 1993 trade back home to the Jets, who were coached by mentor Bruce Coslet.

Esiason says he privately asked Brown for a trade soon after the departure of head coach Sam Wyche following the 1991 season. He says it's why the Bengals drafted David Klingler in the first round in 1992 and made him the starter later that season.

"I went to Mike directly. I didn't make any public statements," Esiason said. "Mike did great by me. Twice he ripped up my contract in the middle of them. He had no problem paying me what other (top) starting quarterbacks were making. After I signed it, other guys leapfrogged ahead of me, but that's just the way the league is."

Esiason is one of the legions perplexed by Johnson's offensive. Asked if the Bengals should trade him, Esiason said, "If you get a trade that blows you away. Two first-rounders or something like that, (but not what Washington offered)."

The Bengals don't view a first-round receiver as equal value to a five-time Pro Bowler since some in the organization feel the failure rate at that position in that round is 40 percent.

AGENT CHECK: Mendenhall is represented by Rick Smith, an agent who did free-agent deals with the Bengals for cornerback Tory James and Bryan Robinson and is with Priority Sports, the firm of Ken Zuckerman, the agent that got a deal with first-rounder Levi Jones before the first practice of training camp.

Ellis' agent is Eugene Parker, Chris Perry's rep, and Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey has Ken Kremer, David Pollack's agent.

Perry and Pollack each held out about three weeks, but since then the club has had amiable discussions about free agents with their agents. Troy cornerback Leodis McKelvin has Hadley Engelhard, the agent that did a lightning quick deal with the Bengals for Jets defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson last month before it broke down over health issues.

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