Receivers running out of room

5-21-01, 6:50 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Some may fall asleep n the second half of the Bengals' upcoming pre-season games, but Bengals receivers coach Steve Mooshagian sees a wake-up call.

The fourth quarters won't be rookie free agents trying to get on the practice squad. This year it's going to be veteran third- and fourth-round draft picks like Ron Dugans, Danny Farmer and Craig Yeast battling with NFL veterans like Damon Griffin and Chad Plummer for the last two or three spots on the roster. Throw in LaVell Boyd, last year's practice squad player, and it's like Yeast says, "If you think about the numbers, you're going to get cut."

"The games are when this is all going to have to be decided," Mooshagian said. "The preseason games are going to have the most impact at this position in my three years here. There's a lot to find out."

The first half is going to be reserved for Darnay Scott, Peter Warrick, second-round pick Chad Johnson and maybe seventh-round pick T.J. Houshmandzadeh, whose route-running is already one of the team's best.

The voluntary camps have been tough to judge for Mooshagian in the sense that "three who could be part of the five or six we keep aren't even here."

Warrick is here, but Johnson and Houshmandzadeh can't attend because Oregon State doesn't graduate until June 16. And the Bengals are still trying to get Scott to show up before the voluntary camp ends next week.

"I intend to speak to Darnay," said head coach Dick LeBeau. "We are looking for 1,000 percent attendance, but it is voluntary."

The one good thing about Scott's absence is the guys on the bubble are getting more work. It's too close to call because like Farmer said, "It's really not fair to judge what a football player does just wearing a helmet and jersey."

It would be tempting to mark down a guy like Farmer in these workouts because he doesn't have burning speed or bulging biceps.

But after watching him play at UCLA and here last year when he caught four passes for 87 yards in the final 2:43 to lift the Bengals over the Jaguars in the next to last game of the season, Mooshagian knows the resourceful Farmer plays best in games.

"Danny has always done that," Mooshagian said. "Based on last year, you could make the assumption that Dugans practiced better and Farmer played better in games. But is that a bad assumption? Was it because Farmer was able to play late in the year and had the chance to learn before he got in there and Ron had to start the season right away and learn as a rookie under fire?

"That's why we have to play these games and find out," Mooshagian said. **

COPELAND STATUS:** It looks like the John Copeland situation will be resolved one way or the other before June 1. Copeland's agent, Tim McGee, said Monday night he hopes to have a decision on whether the nine-year defensive end will return or go to another club "in a few days."

The Bengals and McGee talked Monday and the club wants him back at a reduced rate after releasing him last month. Copeland was to meet with head coach Dick LeBeau Monday.

MITCHELL ENTHUSED: When quarterback Scott Mitchell re-signed with the Bengals last month, he not only saw the writing on the wall. He heard it:

First dibs were going to Akili Smith and Jon Kitna.

But Mitchell is pleasantly surprised with the number of snaps he's received this month. He doubts it can last into training camp, but he thinks he's been able to display why he believes he can start and be effective.

Mitchell has looked sharp enough that he belongs with Kitna and Smith in the quarterback derby. He chalks it up in part to being familiar with the new offense, which he used in various forms with Miami, Detroit and Baltimore.

"But the main reason I look better than I did last year (at this time) is because of the number of reps I'm getting Mitchell said. "I couldn't be happier at where I am right now."

On Monday, Smith returned to pass for an entire practice for the first time in about two weeks, and Mitchell said he still got a steady diet of snaps. The back of Smith's throwing shoulder has been sore, but he ripped off some long balls and reported no pain.

MOW OVER: Paul Brown Stadium groundskeeper Doug Bradley never thought his new field would look so good so early.

The grass is growing so well that it needs to be mowed. Which is headline stuff for a field last year that went bald and brown for the last two games.

Bradley says he couldn't have asked for better weather in which the field has been installed. There has been steady rain and cool temperatures.

A total of 75 percent of the sod has been put down, with the only remaining bare slice left runs down the Bengals' sideline. Throw in the fact that this week's forecast is full of rain and cold and Bradley is ecstatic.

"Good weather for me, bad for everyone else," Bradley said. "It's supposed to only be in the 50s (degrees) and get into the 40s on some of the nights. The game field is now intact and it's long and shaggy and needs to get mowed. You can pamper the borders and the areas on the sidelines more than the playing field. Mother Nature couldn't have been better."

All the sod should be in place Wednesday.

**

THIS AND THAT:** Linebacker Takeo Spikes gets his injured shoulder checked Wednesday and will probably be cleared to practice next week. . . Fullback Clif Groce (knee) looks to get cleared by the end of this week. . .If running back Michael Basnight's knee (small cartilage tear) doesn't respond next week in an exam, he'll get arthroscopic surgery. But he would be back in plenty of time for the July 20 opening of training camp. . .

LeBeau is taking the bulk of his staff to Chicago Tuesday and Wednesday for a NFL coaching seminar, including offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, defensive coordinator Mark Duffner, running backs coach Jim Anderson, tight ends coach Frank Verducci, offensive assistant John Garrett and special teams coach Al Roberts.

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