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Of Darnay and depth

6-10-02, 12:35 p.m.

Darnay and depth.

That's what Bengals' fans have on their minds as the lull begins between May workouts and the July 25 start of training camp. The status of wide receiver Darnay Scott and roster depth. A sampling of Hobson's Choice:

Is it prudent for the Bengals to retain Darnay and try to rework his salary structure? With that said, do you think the Bengals are keeping Darnay for now in order to gauge the value of similar players on the free-agent market (Derrick Alexander, Keenan McCardell, etc.,) while retaining the right to re-negotiate at a later date or cut him? **Ryan, Cincinnati.

The recent signings of Alexander ($1.7 million per year in Minnesota) and McCardell in Tampa Bay ($2.5 million per) indicate that Scott's $3.9 million hit for '02 is a bit much. Particularly for a team seeking contract extensions for the heart of its defense in linebackers Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons. National reports have the Bengals with about $2 million to spend beyond their rookie pool.

The Bengals probably don't have McCardell's $2.5 million in mind, and while Scott has been a fine receiver for this club, he has never caught 80 balls in a season and McCardell has done it four times.**

Of all the players who played on last year's team, who was the most improved during the voluntary workouts? What

are coaches saying that you might not read in the newspapers? **Brian, Newport, KY.

On offense, it had to be wide receiver Danny Farmer and on defense it had to be cornerback Robert Bean. Those are about the only positions you can really look at when the team is wearing only helmets and shorts.

Farmer has spent the offseason working on his speed and strength and combine that with his ability to flat-out catch everything and he is out of whatever doghouse he was in for getting cut by the Steelers two years ago as a rookie. He ended up pulling a hamstring during the last week of May, but receivers coach Steve Mooshagian chalks that up to the exhaustive month he had lining up at every receiver spot with Scott shelved by his sore shin.

The last time we saw Bean, Titans quarterback Steve McNair was toasting him over an open fire in Tennessee. But this past month he looked more like he did when he was a rookie in 2000 and constantly made plays on the ball in practice and in games whenever he got a shot.

And he'll have to play like that because with Rodney Heath coming back off a hamstring injury, they will be dueling for the fourth corner spot with Mark Roman looking more and more like the swingman as the fifth corner and fourth safety.

The coaches like the play of the young wideouts, but there's no question they also value Scott's speed, experience and familiarity with the offense. They also love the play of the club's college free-agent corners (Fresno State's Tierre Sams and Alabama's Reggie Myles) as well as Winston-Salem State free safety Stephon Kelly.**

Any chance of Darnay Scott getting axed to free up a ton money, and if so, what would it count towards this year's cap? **Jeff, Cincinnati

According to various surveys, the Bengals have to eat only $700,000 of his 3.9 million cap number. He's scheduled to make $2.5 million in salary, but only if he gets a $500,000 roster bonus _ for a $3 million cap hit**

What position group has been upgraded the most during this past offseason? **John, Edgewood, Ky.

After watching free-agent pickup Jeff Burris, you have to say cornerback. That's not to say the man is Charles Woodson, but he's not Charlie Brown, either. Simply put, the Bengals haven't had such a solid veteran at that position since well, Super Bowl corners Eric Thomas and Lewis Billups didn't have Burris' experience combined.

Where it really is going to help them is off the field. He hasn't blinked in going to the other corners like Artrell Hawkins and Kevin Kaesviharn with tips.

And speaking of Kaesviharn, the third corner, even though he was here last year, you have to look at him as another off-season upgrade because he'll have this year what he didn't have last year. Which is a full May and training camp under his belt.

How quick is Kaesviharn? He and Bean were probably the two quickest on the court when the guys got together for their weekly basketball game last month.**

Are there any solid DTs available now or expected to be available during camp? Last year showed that if either (Oliver) Gibson or (Tony) Williams go down, the opposition is successful on the ground. **Rick, Dayton, Ohio.

That's a fact. Knock on some wood here, but Gibson has the longest starting streak on the roster with 48 games and last year played the third most snaps on the defense (behind Simmons and Spikes)with 862.

But when Williams went down early in Pittsburgh and missed the next three games, the Steelers rushed for 275 yards and the Bears went for 203 two weeks later. When Williams came back for the last nine games, they allowed 100 yards rushing four times with the Ravens' high of 157.

Problem is, there aren't a lot of tackles out there. They made calls on the two best defensive tackles available in Sam Adams and Jim Flanigan, but got signs they were looking for starter's money even though they would be in a rotation here.

That could change later, but a guy like former Bengal Mike Thompson might be more like it. It's early, but there's no question they would like to get another wide body in there. They liked University of Cincinnati rookie Mario Monds last year, but he tore his ACL in NFL Europe workouts in March and probably won't be back until October at the earliest.**

Why not cut Darnay now and let him know that he is welcome back at a much lower salary of about 1 million, then let him try his luck at signing with someone else? He'll come back here when he doesn't get what he wants. There are so many quality receivers out there that he would surely be unable to hook up with someone for big bucks. I just don't see the point in always waiting like the Browns like to do. **Rick, Cincinnati, OH

The Cleveland Browns or the Brown family? The man who named both, Paul Brown, always said, "Never eliminate yourself." Why cut Scott so early? He knows your system and in the six games the Bengals won last year, Scott had either a 100-yard day, caught a touchdown, or had at least five catches. Take your time and do things like work out Michael Westbrook.

But your point is well made. It looks like the only team that has heavy interest in a quality receiver like Antonio Freeman is his very own Packers. **

Which position(s) do you believe that the Bengals will be looking to upgrade at from the June 1st cuts, and those that may follow? **Mike, Louisville, Ky.

As Rick mentioned, defensive tackle is the leading spot and if they can't work out anything with Scott, they are obviously in the market for a veteran wideout. They say they are going to stick with their two rookie tight ends, so don't look for a move there.**

How can the Bengals talk about carrying 3 kickers? With 8 DL, 7 LB, 5 CB, 5 S, 6 WR, 10 OL, 3 TE, 3QB, 1 FB and 3HB, they would have 51 players with a long snapper included in the 51. They will cut a decent player to have 2 kickers. Darnay Scott, Rudi Johnson, Scott Covington, Jamain Stephens, Richmond Webb, Brock Gutierrez. The Giants would love to have Webb and the Ravens would probably like both Johnson and Stephens!!! **Ed Andrew, Dayton, Ohio

On the 53-man roster, you have to lump the long snapper with the kicker and punter because tight end Brad St. Louis and defensive tackle Randy Chevrier aren't projected to help them at their other spots.

So say they keep rookie Travis Dorsch to kick off, veteran Neil Rackers to kick field goals, and Nick Harris to punt, plus a long snapper. That's four specialists.

Projecting Nick Williams as the last (three) tight end and (two) fullback, and Mark Roman as the ninth and final DB as a swingman, that would give them 54 players, one over the 53-man limit. It seems it would come down to which player do you cut among Rackers, or one of the running backs in Curtis Keaton or Rudi Johnson?

At 29, Brandon Bennett is the oldest running back, but the coaches love his productivity and his reliability as the best guy back there picking up blitzes. If they kept three kickers, it probably wouldn't be for the entire season.**

I've been reading a lot about the two man quarterback battle. Has Scott Covington been involved in the voluntary workouts, and if so, how has he performed? **Bryan, Moneta, Va.

Covington participated last month and has a big fan in Bengals President Mike Brown, who wonders if he's another Tom Brady. But Brown can't seem to convince the coaches and Covington has a rough road ahead as the No. 4 quarterback.

They can't cut Akili Smith for cap reasons and Jon Kitna and Gus Frerotte are in competition for the starting job.**

How many games do you think it will take Levi Jones to win the starting left tackle job away from the ageless one, Richmond Webb? **Mike, Louisville.

Depends. If Jones gets into training camp on time, maybe he could start the opener. But if they start out playing well with Webb there, maybe Jones only gets in if they fall out of the playoff hunt. Most likely they will do it like they did with Willie Anderson in 1996 and ease him in there at about the halfway point. They think Jones is the real deal, but the one thing he has to show them in training camp that he couldn't show them last month is if he can take on the bull rush.**

Do you really think Jon Kitna has what it takes to be the leader we need to take us back to the Jungle days? I still believe that if given a chance Akili Smith will be the Bengals quarterback of the future **David, Robinson, Ky.

All you have to do is look at the numbers Kitna racked up in the six wins last year (seven touchdowns, four interceptions) and see why the coaches think he can take them to the playoffs. The question is if Kitna is only capable of playing six good games a year.

You have to feel that offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has staked his reputation on his unshakeable belief that Kitna will be better this year than last because of his knowledge of the offense and receivers.

Smith is still wondering what he could have done if he didn't get hurt against the Jets (what if Peter Warrick catches Smith's third-down pass on the series after Smith led a 20-play TD drive?), or if he had this offense and these experienced receivers and left tackles when he started the 2000 season.

But at the moment, he's running No. 3 and it's going to take time before he gets another start. And with a minimum salary excluding escalators, he's priced just right.


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