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Receivers on the mind

7-2-02, 2:30 p.m.

Thanks for your kind responses (Lance in Indianapolis and Randall in Potomac, Md.) to the Anthony Munoz story that came out of last week's Billy Graham mission.

Now for that other Paul Brown Stadium crusade that begins on the homefront when the Saints (naturally) arrive for the Aug. 24 pre-season home opener. Dominating the current buzz of Bengaldom is the Michael Westbrook-Darnay Scott situation.

A Hobson's Choice sampling:

Who do you think will be the TE that sees the most time ? Also, who do you think may be the "sleeper" or surprise of camp? I think they should give up on Scott. He is showing no loyalty or respect to the team. Westbrook hasn't been spectacular in his career, but he wants to play in Cincy. **Randy, Columbus, Ohio.

Figure Sean Brewer to be the main guy early. He is a better blocker right now than third-round pick Matt Schobel and even though he missed all last year with a groin injury, Brewer has at least been around the offense for a year.

He may not be a sleeper any more because he was so impressive in the month of May, but look for sixth-round pick Marquand Manuel to be a big hit at strong safety. Another guy to take a look at is the new defensive lineman they just signed from NFL Europe in Pernell Davis. The 336-pound Davis has been hurt much of his career, but he was rated NFL Europe's best free-agent down lineman.

And Chris Edmonds is going to open some eyes when he plays at tight end some. The converted linebacker is fast and has excellent hands.**

Why are the Bengals trying to sign Westbrook? Would it be in our best interest to release Scott and go into the season with the other (five) receivers that we have? Then use the money saved to re-sign Spikes and Simmons to long term contracts?

We spent high draft picks on Warrick and Johnson. Why not let them start and the other three can fight for the third and fourth spots? **Jason, Albany, N.Y.

With Bob Bratkowski's offense, the Bengals need six wide receivers because they use so many

third- and four-wide alignments. And while they feel they have solid guys in Warrick, Farmer and Dugans, they lack down-the-field sprinter's speed and the thinking is you need another burner to keep people off the one speed guy they have in Johnson.

Houshamandzadeh can run, but not like Scott in his prime when he could take it to another notch when the ball was in the air. So they have no idea how healthy Scott is and how fast he can run because they haven't seen him in nearly two months.

But the Bengals saw Westbrook run a 4.35-second 40-yard dash here on one watch last month. They need a sixth and the sixth guy better be able to run fast. And if you make the cap hit minimal, it keeps you in the Spikes/Simmons Sweepstakes.**

I would like to know if the Bengals could sign Westbrook and keep Scott? Also I think Mike Brown takes the heat most of the time and he should get a little credit for the team he has put together. **Rodney, Pine Knot, Ky.

It's highly unlikely the Bengals would sign Westbrook and keep Scott, given that they're trying to lighten the salary cap at receiver and shift some of it to linebacker.

Mike Brown knows more than anybody that you take heat until you win and he expects it until it happens. It would have been interesting to see the league-wide reaction to Brown if the Bengals had scored nine more points in the losses to Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, and the Jets, and made the playoffs in a year the Ravens, Jaguars and Titans sank into cap hell.**

I hope the Bengals do not discard Darnay Scott in favor of Michael Westbrook. Over the years, the Bengals have hurt themselves by cutting veterans who they did not feel were worth the money they were due in favor of unproven players who have impressive physical stats (RE this year's tight end situation.) This always comes back to haunt them.

Scott is our go to receiver. Look at the tape of the last game of the season against the Titans, and then imagine the game with Scott out, replaced by a guy whose claim to fame is ripping off his helmet to celebrate a catch (and moving his team out of field-goal range with the penalty against the Giants in overtime. I believe the resulting tie game cost the Redskins a playoff berth that year.)

Darnay is a good character, and a proven commodity who has experience in the Bengal offense and with Kitna.

Bengal Management: Don't shoot yourself in the foot. Do what it takes to keep Darnay happy so that you can win this year, and show other players that you are loyal, and that character and game performance count. **Jennifer, Jupiter, FL.

The Bengals are wondering about loyalty after not being able to reach Scott for much of the last month. You can't argue with Scott's competitiveness and grittiness in games and the fact he averaged 92 yards in the Bengals' six victories.

But his penchant down through the years to blow off the voluntary workouts has taken its toll on the coaching staff. And by not showing up this time, he has put the club in a bind because they don't know the status of his sore left shin. That's an uneasy $3 million roll of the dice if they can't get him to re-do the deal.

As for Westbrook, you're talking about the Nov. 23 1997 game in Washington that ended up a 7-7 overtime tie against the Giants. The Redskins were driving for the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter when they thought they got a bad spot for a first down. Westbrook ripped off his helmet to argue, an automatic 15-yard penalty, and the drive died. The Redskins finished 8-7-1 and lost out to the 9-7 Lions for the playoffs.

(By the way, that's the same game new Bengals quarterback Gus Frerotte celebrated by hitting his head on the wall when he was playing for the Redskins).

When it comes to Westbrook, people are going off two isolated incidents from half a decade ago (including the practice fight with Stephen Davis) in trying to portray him as an undesirable. But the Bengals and others just don't see it.

Even some media that has covered Westbrook in Washington feel he's a different guy than the one that arrived as the fourth pick in the 1995 NFL draft. Westbrook, who has never had off-the-field troubles, may have had some difficult locker-room periods as he he got restless in Norv Turner's offense when he was younger. But he also turns 30 years old on Sunday and that all seems to be water under the bridge.

Duke Tobin, Bengals director of pro/college personnel, played with Westbrook at Colorado and hasn't blinked in his pursuit.

"I think he's a mature guy who has learned some things," Tobin said. "I knew him as a quality guy who was never a distraction, but helpful to his teammates."**

Is it possible for the Bengals to re-sign Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons and still stay under the cap? If they don't, I don't see a future with this franchise under Mr.Brown. **Neil, Gardena, CA.

Brown knows how important it is to keep both. Important enough that it was a factor in deciding not to pursue Drew Bledsoe, to soft-pedal 2002 free agency, and to hold off on any other contract extensions except for those two.

But the Bengals also have the luxury of having a deep linebacking corps, which has to fit into the cap equation if they can't get both Spikes and Simmons done. One only has to look at Baltimore's disposal of Jamie Sharper to see that teams are hesitant to spend mega money on two guys at one spot in the salary cap age.

The Steelers showed you could keep two Pro Bowl-type linebackers in one offseason with the recent extensions of Jason Gildon and Joey Porter, but they are their leading sack guys as outside backers in a 3-4 defense. Still, the argument can be made even though Spikes and Simmons have a different role here, they are just as important to this 4-3 defense.**

Did any of the Bengals stand out in NFL Europe? **Ron, Monroe, Ohio.

After watching tapes and listening to coaches, Bengals director of pro/college personnel Jim Lippincott gives the nod to cornerback Bo Jennings and wide receiver Khori Ivy for Amsterdam and Barcelona, respectively.

Jennings played every secondary spot during a season his coaches said he was the team's best defensive back and one of the Admirals' surest tacklers. Lippincott talked to former Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano, a Barcelona assistant, about Ivy and was told: "He's not all that fast, but he's got good hands, is a fine route runner, knows how to release off the line and and can return punts. Sam says he can definitely play in the league."**

With all this talk about who the Bengals might be signing or letting go, I was wondering how the Bengals are handling the Simmons/Spikes situation. I know they have a big interest in getting a contract extension done, but what I was wondering is if they are actively discussing anything with the players agents? **Eric, Milford, Ohio.

They spoke with each Spikes and Simmons before they left for the summer to let them know they want to get both done and they have also been in touch with both of their agents. So far, all sides are only saying they are waiting to see what happens.**

I haven't heard much on the kicking situation. Anything new or will Rackers and the rookie battle it out in camp? **Kelly, Hattiesburg, MS.

It still looks to be a training camp competition between Neil Rackers and fourth-round pick Travis Dorsch, but there is an outside chance both could make it. That would happen if they decided Dorsch was kicking off well enough and Rackers was accurate enough on field goals (or the other way around) and that it warranted taking up a roster spot.

Some teams do keep three kickers (punter, kicker, kick-off) if the kick-off guy is especially good. But it's a longshot.

The attractive thing about Dorsch is he can also punt. Which means there could be a game-time decision where the Bengals need bodies and can deactivate punter Nick Harris, and have Dorsch do both. Or split duties with Rackers.

But it will probably come down like it did in 2000 between Rackers and Doug Pelfrey, where the rookie is favored over the veteran in a camp competition.**

What are the chances that we would forget both Darnay and Michael, go with the hard working backups _ Danny, Housh, Dugans, the potential breakout boys in Pete and Chad, Khori Ivy of world league greatness, and get Takeo and Brian signed instead? I think this should really be considered as a viable option. Also, will you be at training camp? I'd like to meet both you and Chick Ludwig when I make my annual pilgrimage to Georgetown. Thanks. **Mike, Minnesota.

It would be great to meet you at training camp, but the guy you really want to meet is Chick Ludwig of The Dayton Daily News so you can say you met an Ohio legend on your sojourn from the Lakes.

I don't think it's a viable option because you need another fast guy and even though Ivy had a good Euro, he's not ready. You need Scott or Westbrook, although you're right on when you say guys like Farmer and Houshmandzadeh are on the verge of breaking into things.**

While I am happy with the Bengals' decision to not draft a corner and instead give a nod of faith to guys like Kaesviharn(who should start opposite Hawkins in my opinion), Hawkins, Bean and Heath along with Burris, I do have a question. Why are the Bengals so reluctant to keep six corners? Most secondaries have ten guys in their unit, six CBs and four safeties. Instead, the Bengals do five and four. Assuming the safeties are Armour, Hall, Manuel and Thompson, and we keep five CBs, we are looking at cutting a combination of either Bean or Roman along with Ligarius "Bo" Jennings. I think that all seven of our CBs could make the team, since so many teams have multiple WR sets. Just go light on LBs(six) and WRs(five). **Robert, Cincinnati.

The Bengals look to be going with six and four this year if you count Mark Roman as a cornerback/safety swingman. The corners look to be Hawkins, Burris, Kaesviharn, Bean, Heath and Roman, and the safeties Hall, Armour, Thompson, Manuel and Roman.

You really can't keep more than six corners. You can't keep just five receivers because you play the three-receiver sets more than a third of the time and you can't go light at linebacker when it's such an important position in special teams.**

Why did the Bengals release Tony McGee and decide to go with a group of very green tight ends(which I'm not saying is a bad move per say) yet insist on either keeping Scott or signing Westbrook, when the current group of WRs has loads of experience over the current TEs. Farmer, Dugans, Houshmanzadeh need to play every week, we can go with five WRs. I read where Mike Brown said we could even go with 7, that is too much! **Mike, Cincinnati.

The Bengals cut McGee because they thought it was time to get younger at tight end, where they feel they need some down-the-seam speed in the middle of the field. They hope by playing right away two rookies Brewer and Schobelthey can learn on the job in a low-profile position.

The greenish hue of the tight ends' experience makes it that much more important to get one wide receiver who has more than two years experience in the NFL.**

Do you think Peter Warrick will bust out this season? Or, is he just another Bengal bust? I think he is the key to the offense. If he can live up to his hype, we will make the playoffs easy. ** Bill, Johnston, RI.

It's hard to call a guy who has caught 121 balls in his first two seasons in the NFL a bust. But the Bengals realize Warrick can't just score one touchdown like he did last season, either.

They appear to be developing some specialty packages for him, which they really couldn't do last year because they were so immersed in mastering just the basics of a new offense. And they are now committed to Warrick as the full-time punt returner, which will give him a lot more touches. They may find out he's more dangerous and productive as a specialty player.**

Which rookies are looking good at this point? **Rod, P.S, GA

After May, the kids who rated highly were the No. 1 pick, left tackle Levi Jones, Manuel, fellow safety Stephon Kelly, a free-agent from Winston-Salem State, as well as free-agent cornerbacks Tierre Sams (Fresno State) and Reggie Myles (Alabama).

Free safety Lamont Thompson, the second-rounder from Washington State, didn't practice in May because of a dispute over injury protection. But when he did individual work on the field in June, the coaches were extremely impressed with his size, agility, and his knack for making spectacular plays on the ball.**

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