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Safeties jockey

10-5-01, 7:25 a.m.


The Bengals may be without backup free safety Darryl Williams again Sunday against the Steelers.

Williams, who missed his first game as a Bengal in six seasons last Sunday in San Diego with a mid-foot sprain, had been upgraded to probable. But now he's questionable after experiencing some pain during Thursday's practice.

Meanwhile, another durable veteran safety the Bengals know well gets to start against them Sunday. Myron Bell, who started 17 games for Cincinnati in 1998 and 1999, gets the nod for the Steelers in place of the injured Lee Flowers.

Bell, a fifth-round pick of the Steelers in 1994, has never missed a game because of injury. In 1998, the Bengals gave him his one start of the season against his old team in Cincinnati's 25-20 win and he had four tackles.

BRAHAM RETURNS: Center Rich Braham returned to practice Thursday with his herniated neck disc amid much media fanfare and ribbing from his line mates.

"Hey Braham, do you know the plays?" asked left guard Matt O'Dwyer.

But Braham, who missed Wednesday's practice because of a doctor's visit in

Cleveland, shrugged at all the attention.

"I feel confident in what they told me and they explained it to me," Braham said. "As a player, you know the difference between numbness and continuing sensations compared to muscles hurting."

It was business as usual for Braham, although he did take some extra regular snaps and shot-gun snaps during Thursday's seven-on-seven drill to get used to his new protective neck collar on his shoulder pads.

"As long as I can move my head so I can see the safeties," Braham said of his pre-snap reads at the line of scrimmage. "This year it's more of a load on the quarterback (to identify defenses). It used to be more of a load on the center."

That's why Braham got his neck checked in the first place on Monday after the Chargers game. He hurt the neck three weeks before in the opener and although he could play, his neck was stiff and he had to turn his shoulders to check out the defense.

Which is why he was so surprised when he sat down Monday at his first doctor's appointment and realized he was sketching out surgery that would end his season.

"I'm there saying, 'Easy, slow down,'" said Braham, who has played with more pain in his knees down through the years.

Because the bulging disc is low in his neck, near the base, and because he has no symptoms of tingling or numbness, Braham has been told he stands as much chance of getting paralyzed as anyone else on the field Sunday.

"I just have to do what I have to do," Braham said. "I've got confidence. Actually, I thought I'd have more trouble snapping (in the shotgun), but it was fine."

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