Prather gives up football

7-28-02, 6:45 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Rookie free-agent safety Pig Prather ended one of the more curious NFL careers Sunday when he informed the Bengals he had left the team to take care of personal issues.

Jim Lippincott, director of football operations, went into Prather's dorm room here early Sunday morning and found only his playbooks stacked on his dresser. When he reached Prather later in the day in Mississippi, he found out why.

"He said he wanted to go home and take care of his mother and that was the most important thing to him right now," Lippincott said. "He'll probably end up on the reserve/retired list and we would hold on to his rights."

Heading into the 2000 season at Mississippi State, Prather was rated by many as the top player in the country before a knee injury and other ailments took him out of the 2002 draft and he ended up calling the Bengals for a free-agent job.

The agent for backup defensive end Jevon Langford, a seventh-year player, indicated his client could report in time for Sunday's afternoon session after spending the weekend dealing with personal issues. But it wasn't an excused absence and he could face a fine. **

JACKSON HOPEFUL:** One thing about John Jackson's heart. It's in the right place.

On the verge of his 15th season as a decorated NFL left tackle, Jackson finds himself in an odd sort of limbo. On Monday, he undergoes an angiogram at Cincinnati's Christ Hospital that basically tells him whether or not he'll have to retire. Until then, he has no fear. He wants to play if the test shows his life isn't in danger.

But here's a guy who already has all the money he needs, a beautiful home in San Diego where he runs a health spa and salon with his wife, and plays all the golf he can get.

Why not just call it a great career?

"There's an inner peace that I have and that I'm relying on," Jackson said here Saturday. "Believe me, I don't play for the money. Money's not an issue. I just like playing. As long as I can contribute to this team and this organization, then I'll play."

Jackson, 37, says he plays for the camaraderie instead of the cash and for the first time as a Bengal, he sees it

coming together in this locker room.

"What they have here now surpasses anything they've had in my three years here. That speaks volumes," Jackson said. "Do I want to be part of this? Yeah. But I have limitations. . .We've got the same attitude now. Everybody wants to win around here. Frankly, everybody's tired of it and that's what you need."

At Thursday's training camp physicals, Bengals trainer Paul Sparling instructed Jackson and another player to undergo a stress test in addition to the other parts of the exam. The other player because of an initial test, Jackson because of his age and because Sparling remembered that Jackson's 62-year-old father died of a heart attack back in May.

"He's the first player I can remember that we've had who showed any kind of minor abnormality on a stress test," Sparling said. "But it could be a false positive result and he doesn't have a problem."

Jackson refuses to speculate and prefers to wait until Monday. A Cincinnati prep product from Woodward High School, Jackson won't even talk about his post-football plans: "My main focus is getting back to practice. If that changes, then I'll find my life's work."

He finds himself in a numbers crunch with the drafting of the left tackle of the future, Levi Jones, playing behind starter Richmond Webb. Whatever happens, he'll miss two weeks with the angiogram.

But with 13 playoff games, three AFC championship games, and one Super Bowl appearance as a Pittsburgh Steeler, Jackson thinks he can help the kid. He thinks Jones shouldn't be rushed with guys like himself and Webb and their combined 31 seasons hanging around.

"You have to be groomed right," said Jackson, who didn't start until the last 12 games of his second season. "You can't be just thrown out to the wolves because they want him to last a long time. To put somebody out there on the the line when you don't have to. . .right now they can groom him and get him ready for the future."

**

THIS AND THAT:** Left outside linebacker Steve Foley is day-to-day after mildly straining his hip flexor Saturday. . .

The Bengals denied a report by a Lexington TV station over the weekend that said the club plans to leave Georgetown College after this season. Business manager Bill Connelly said the team is in the sixth year of a seven-year contract and will be back next season.

There is heavy speculation that starting in 2004 the Bengals will stay home and have camp at their own stadium, which a handful of NFL teams already do. But Connelly said there are problems with that plan that would have to be smoothed out. Probably the No. 1 glitch is trying to protect the practice fields from getting so chewed up that they would unplayable for the regular season. . .

Transplanted linebacker Chris Edmonds found two No. 53 jerseys hanging in his locker when he arrived. A white one for offense and a black one for defense. Since he's working exclusively with the tight ends, he thinks he knows what's next. Equipment managers Rob Recker and Jeff Brickner are re-sizing former receiver Darnay Scott's No. 86.

QB DERBY: Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski isn't happy with the early accuracy of his quarterbacks during the first two practices. But he has been pleasantly surprised by how smooth No. 3 man Akili Smith has looked in his first action since his Dec. 26 hamstring surgery.

"The work he put in this offseason mentally has given him a comfort level in there," Bratkowski said. "He has an understanding of what we want

him to do, what his role is, and what his job is. He's looked good out here and his leg doesn't seem to be bothering him."

Smith returned Saturday after dislocating the middle finger of his non-throwing left hand late in Friday's practice and as one Bengal insider said, "That says here's a guy who knows he needs every rep he can get."

Smith has missed some throws, but so have starter Jon Kitna and backup Gus Frerotte. Some think Smith has looked better than Kitna and that Frerotte's arm strength has carried the day. But it's too early to make any kind of call. Kitna's command of the offense is also apparent.

"We're missing some balls we shouldn't miss," Bratkowski said. "I would hope our accuracy would grow from where it is right now. It's early and the passing game usually takes a little more time to get going."

The trio looked a little sharper Saturday and Bratkowski was very pleased with the offense's performance in the third-and-11 drill: "We hit a few screens and a few passes down field and we felt like we had a good day after that was over because it's a situation where the defense has such an advantage."

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