QBs spark interest

2-25-02, 2:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

If the NFL scouting combine is this week, then you know the Bengals are never going to pass up a chance to look at the nation's best quarterbacks.

They have spent the offseason talking about upgrading their quarterback play and all indications are they are going to try to do it via free agency or trade when the festivities commence Friday.

But if they can't nail down that veteran, the next option is on Draft Day. With the quarterback prospects scheduled to come into the scouting combine in Indianapolis this weekend, the Bengals are ready to chart the Fab Five of Fresno State's David Carr, Oregon's Joey Harrington, LSU's Rohan Davey, Illinois' Kurt Kittner and Tulane's Patrick Ramsey.

There are others lurking in the later rounds that could be seen as an upgrade to Scott Covington, the Bengals' seventh-round pick from 1999. But if you're looking for a viable starting prospect in the near future, he probably won't be there Day Two of the draft.

Jim Lippincott and Duke Tobin, the Bengals' directors of pro/college personnel, agree with everyone that Carr and Harrington are the cream and both defend Kittner after last month's tough outing at the Senior Bowl. They also think Ramsey and Davey are keeping things interesting with their strong post-season efforts.

Carr and Harrington figure to be long gone when the Bengals pick 10th in the first round, but that doesn't stop them from hoping one will slide.

"Both of them can see the defense and snap off a throw," said Tobin, who thinks they can have a Peyton Manning-like impact on their new teams. "Like Peyton, they've got to be in systems that take advantage of their strengths. But they've got similar traits to Peyton. Quick release, decision-making, toughness, leadership. Ability to elude people in the pocket."

Of course, the Bengals won't be crying if a quarterback isn't there at No. 10. Because of the problems they've had with David Klingler and Akili Smith the past decade, they've pretty much sworn off taking quarterbacks in the first round.

"The failure rate in the first round at any position is 50 percent," Lippincott said. "For a quarterback, that's fatal. There are some teams

who just won't draft a quarterback and go for veteran free agents. It takes so long to develop them that by the time they do, they are free-agents. It might cost you a little more when you sign a veteran free agent, but you're getting a guy who knows the league and the game. You're paying for his experience."

The Bengals are still open to drafting a quarterback, just not with a high pick. Davey, Kittner, and Ramsey could all be first day draft guys taken before the end of the third round.

The 6-2, 220-pound Kittner apparently didn't help himself at the Senior Bowl. But the Bengals don't put much stock in that because, as Lippincott said, "the hardest position to look good at in at an all-star game is quarterback because you're so used to your own system and coaches."

"You can't go off all-star games," Tobin said. "You go off what you see on videotape and how they perform in 11-on-11 situations in an offense with his teammates. When you analyze it that way, (Kittner) is very impressive. He's productive, he can manage a team, he has the command and respect of people on the field. Just because he showed up at a bowl game and looked a little less impressive throwing the ball than some other guys doesn't drop his stock."

Davey, a 6-1, 250-pound mountain, helped himself in LSU's bowl game when he showed toughness and resourcefulness. Both Lippincott and Tobin cringe at the comparison to the Vikings' Daunte Culpepper because he's not that class of a runner: "Davey does enjoy throwing the ball and he will. He's not going to run it first and he's not all that mobile."

Tobin compares Davey's strength in the pocket and arm strength to Culpepper, but that's it.

"He doesn't have the ability to run down the field like Culpepper. I just don't see a lot of similarities," Tobin said. "Now, he is tough to bring down in the pocket and he's got a powerful arm like Culpepper. With Davey, it depends on what game you watch on tape. It's not always the same guy."

Lippincott watched the 6-2, 235-pound Ramsey in person at the University of Cincinnati this past fall when the Green Wave rolled in and he had a hard time talking himself out of being interested about a guy with more than a 3.8 grade-point average in a low-profile conference.

"You start asking yourself 'Why can't he play?'" Lippincott said. "He was accurate. He had a good release. He was fairly mobile. He was decisive. Really, what more do you want from a guy?"

The scouting process continues this weekend and will then accelerate next week when the Bengals' coaches go on the road for campus visits and workouts. The data then gets pumped into the draft room for team-wide discussions.

"We're thinking, 'best available player,'" Tobin said. "That means quarterbacks, too. They can also slide and if they do, you have to know what you want."

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