Same old (O) line?

4-15-02, 7:25 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

(Another in a series of stories breaking down the April 20-21 NFL Draft by position.Rankings are a compilation of evaluations from ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., Pro Football Weekly's Joel Buchsbaum and Jerry Jones of The Drugstore List.)

Forget the hot rumor of the day, which is that the Bengals are going to trade up with Detroit at No. 3 or Buffalo at No. 4 to select Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington in the first round of Saturday's NFL Draft.

Truth be told, Bengals President Mike Brown would probably prefer an anniversary cruise on the Titanic rather than shell out a $13 million bonus to another rookie quarterback.

"I think it's unlikely we would trade up," said Brown Monday of the 10th pick. "And if we did, I'm not sure which player we would consider."

But then again, in what some club insiders are calling the most divided draft room in recent memory, the Bengals haven't decided who they will take at No. 10, either.

"Since we're picking lower than we have been, there are a number of attractive things that could happen," Brown said. "Everybody is making strong arguments. It's not crystal clear yet what we'll do."

If they did trade up, it would most likely be for Miami's Bryant McKinnie or Texas' Mike Williams, the left tackles they haven't taken in the first round since Hall-of-Famer Anthony Munoz 22 years ago.

<tr>
  <td height="14" width="100">Toniu Fonoti(G)</td>
  <td height="14" width="54">Nebraska</td>
  <td height="14" width="26">6-3</td>
  <td height="14" width="20">350</td>
</tr>
<tr>
  <td height="14" width="100">Andre Gurode(G/C)</td>
  <td height="14" width="54">Colorado</td>
  <td height="14" width="26">6-4</td>
  <td height="14" width="20">315</td>
</tr>

Top 10 Offensive Linemen

Bryant McKinnie (T) Miami 6-8 340
Mike Williams (T) Texas 6-5 375
Levi Jones(G/T) Ariz.St. 6-5 305
Mike Pearson(T) Florida 6-6 305
Marc Colombo(T) Bost. College 6-7 315
Kendall Simmons(G) Auburn 6-2 310
LeCharles Bentley(C/G) Ohio State 6-2 300
Fred Weary(C/G) Tennessee 6-4 310

And it looks like it might be 23 years because the Bengals are in no man's land when it comes to tackles. McKinnie and Williams will both be gone because the second guy won't

get past Tony Boselli-less Jacksonville at No. 9 and they will most likely be long gone by then, anyway.

One publication, Ourlads, has Williams sliding to Cincinnati at No. 10, but don't count on it.

And then if the Bengals really think they can't leave the draft without a left tackle, they will have to close their eyes and hope Boston College's Marc Colombo is still waiting at No. 41 in the second round. After that?

"History says," said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel, "if you don't get the starting left tackle in the first or second round, you don't get him. And it's such a valued position that another team might have Colombo ranked so high that he won't be there in the second round."

For instance, Ourlads has Colombo going to a Rams team that lost Rod Jones and Ryan Tucker this offseason at No. 31. But Pro Football Weekly's Joel Buchsbaum has him ticketed 13 spots later to the Saints. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. ships him to Denver seven spots after that at No. 51.

Indeed, the Bengals could end up thinking like the gurus. Starting left tackle Richmond Webb and backup John Jackson are 35 and 37, respectively, but they have another year left. So draft for this year.

"But it would be great," said Jerry Jones, author of the draft publication "The Drugstore List," "to draft a guy and not put him in right away. You could have him work with Webb, Jackson, Munoz. Then the guy would be all set."

McKinnie gets the nod over Williams because of his range, reach and the fact he has played left tackle in college. Williams is making the switch from right tackle, but Duke Tobin, Bengals director of pro/college personnel, says there are a few run blockers around like the 375-pound Williams.

But Jones, who used to be in the Bengals' draft room before he retired to Georgia, remembers what former offensive line coach Jim McNally used to say: "You can't teach them to pass block. They can develop blocking the run, but you can't teach them to pass block."

Which is why Arizona State's Levi Jones and Florida's Mike Pearson aren't going to be around when the Bengals pick at No. 41. Jones' inconsistent focus and Pearson's lack of bulk and uncertain athleticism has taken them out of the top ten.

But they are both smart guys and four-year players who have the experience to get nabbed in the middle or late first round, or early in the second round.

So could Colombo, although he is fighting knocks that he doesn't handle the bull rush or move his feet well enough to play on the left side. But the Bengals think he's bright and tough and as Lippincott said, "He's strong and he's going to play in this league a long time."

There is a solid batch of run-blocking guards and what Tobin calls "a deep center draft." That's the good news. The bad news is that Tobin said they will probably go in the second and third round. Although the Bengals are concerned about the age and health of center Rich Braham (who turns 32 during the season) and left guard Matt O'Dwyer, who turns 30 the week of Opening Day, there looks to be more of a need elsewhere.

"I don't know about that," Tobin said. "I think we're going to draft the best player and one of these interior guys could be that guy. They are our kind of big, tough, run-blocking guys. Some of them might not be able to pass block in the NFL just yet, but they will eventually and be productive."

Tobin likes Colorado's Andre Gurode because he can play both guard and center. Nebraska guard Toniu Fonoti (would you believe 16.8 pancakes per game last year?) could also go in the first round. Other versatile guys who are viewed as potential team leaders are Tennessee's Fred Weary and Ohio State's LeCharles Bentley. Converted tackles such as Auburn's Kendall Simmons and Colorado's Victor Rogers have injury histories but also have good enough track records pass protecting to be noticed for play inside after the second round.

If some of these guys slip through the first 72 picks, the Bengals might have an interesting call to make in the third round if they have already found their tight end in the first two rounds.

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