Rookies learning the language

8-7-02, 4:25 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ (This look at the tight ends is another in a series breaking down the Bengals by position as they head into Friday's pre-season opener in Buffalo.) **

PROJECTED TOP TWO:Sean Brewer, Matt Schobel.

H-BACK:Nick Williams.

GRINDING FOR NO. 3, (but they could keep four:)Brad St. Louis, Kirk McMullen;

PURGATORY:** Chris Edmonds.

There are unique words cropping up in Bengaldom known as "Brewspeak." Sean Brewer, the Bengals' gregarious starting tight end, has a language all his own.

He calls his beloved California "Cali." He actually named his bulldog, "Dog," but somehow spells it with a hyphen. He's been working on a training camp beard he terms, "a goat."

And, he's not afraid to use some old standbys in any language. He was recently quoted calling his girlfriend, "my old lady."

"She wasn't mad," Brewer said. "She just wanted to know when 23 became old."

As for his first dozen days or so as the Bengals' rookie starter at their most inexperienced position, Brewer has all kinds of words, not to mention all kinds of potential.

"I've been blessed. I've been handed a great opportunity," Brewer said. "If I can just get rid of the stupid mental mistakes. You guys have written it and it's true. It's lack of experience. If I took a test on this offense on paper, I'd be able to hand it right back in. But you come out here and it's live bullets. You've got to make decisions within a second."

The Bengals have a little more time to make a call on the position that, along with the kicking game, concerns them the most. There have been bleak predictions and even murmurings that the best tight end in camp has been a converted linebacker.

It could change any day, but there is a chance they will only keep three tight ends. Although Williams has taken virtually all of his reps at fullback this camp, he can swing over and play the move spot. St. Louis is most likely the No. 3 if he wins the long snapping derby and he is the favorite as the two-time incumbent.

Since Brewer and Schobel are the club's last two third round draft picks, respectively, and Tony McGee is now starring with Bruce Coslet on HBO's "Xs in the City," with the Cowboys, they are the top two.

John Garrett, a former offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach who is

also a rookie at tight end this camp, knows the learning curve is huge.

"They're developing," Garrett said. "They're all rookies pretty much. Kirk is the one guy who has had his hand on the ground in a game, but he's hardly played, too."

Brewer missed all last year with a groin injury, but has flashed the combine's best tight end speed (4.7 seconds in 40 yards) that made the Bengals take him out of San Jose State in 2001. Much to the consternation of the draftnicks who considered him unpolished.

"He's at the point now where he's become inconsistent," Garrett said. "He has a good day, then a bad day. Those are rookie characteristics. In the 10th, 11th, 12th day of camp, things can catch up to you if you don't write them down. Sometimes he short-circuits, but he's a conscientious guy with a lot of ability who works at it."

Brewer is still steaming about his missed assignment in Saturday's scrimmage when he didn't break off his route against a blitz and quarterback Gus Frerotte threw it nowhere close to him.

"Gus and I had been talking about that just before the game and here it is and Gus is the quarterback and I'm thinking, 'Here I go, I'm going to catch the bomb,'" Brewer said. "But I'm not even looking at the linebacker. I wasn't taking care of No. 1. I was looking at the DB and didn't see the other linebacker coming."

The club doesn't have much of a handle on Schobel because he didn't play in the scrimmage and he won't play Friday with an abdominal/rib cage injury. He arrived as a pure receiver, but Garrett sees hope because, "He wasn't asked to block in college and he's a good enough athlete that he's showing he can do it once he's taught the technique.'

They love McMullen's try-hard, no-nonsense style, but he's locked in a battle with the athleticism of Edmonds, the transplanted linebacker who has the quick and instinctive moves of a high school All-American tight end at Pittsburgh's Woodland Hills. But he's learning.

"He's developing," Garrett cautioned. "He's a long way away. Just from the point of his run-blocking footwork, the proper technique on a release, getting in and out of his cuts. He does have some natural traits, but he has to keep doing it over and over again."

Whether the Bengals have the time and the room to develop him on the active roster is the question. He's eligible for the practice squad after spending 13 weeks on it last year in his rookie year out of West Virginia.

Edmonds has certainly flashed at times, but, like Brewer, he's fighting inconsistency. He's learning a new language on the run. In the scrimmage, Edmonds nearly dropped an easy catch on the sideline by hitting it in the air three times. But on Monday night, he streaked across the middle and reached back between his legs to make a terrific catch.

"I'm trying to work on looking the ball in," Edmonds said. "On defense, you have to read the quarterback, but now you have to be on time, so I'm working on getting my head turned around and getting my eyes on the ball."

Fellow former linebackers such as Steve Foley are giving him tips because many times Edmonds finds himself in the curious role of working against the position he played last year.

"Foley told me he'd give me some tips, but that I can't use them on him," Edmonds said. "He wants to see me make it and when I made this move, I didn't do it so it was just something to do. I did it trying to make the team."

Here is what the transition is like:

"I think I'm OK blocking at the point of attack because you do a lot of the things you do at linebacker, but it's different," Edmonds said. "Last year, I could take my time, stand up, and read the play. Now, the ball is coming behind me with Corey (Dillon) holding it and I'm trying in a hurry to get them out of the way instead of waiting."

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