Sign of the times?

Posted: 6:50 p.m.

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Whitworth

Now for something completely different.

Bengals second-rounder Andrew Whitworth missed one practice in his LSU career and his agent is confident he won't miss one in the NFL because of a training camp hold out.

"And that was because of graduation," said Steve Colson on Wednesday. "In fact, he showed up at practice, but the coaches told him to go to the ceremony. He told me when he got drafted, 'Can't miss work,' and I don't anticipate any problems. He's on team in a city with fans, and it's like working for a company."

The Bengals aren't only negotiating with their draft picks in anticipation of the July 29 start of training camp, but they're also trying to secure a contract extension with left tackle Levi Jones before practice starts in 10 days at Georgetown College.

Both sides have a benchmark with the Lions giving a six-year deal last week to Jeff Backus reportedly worth $38 million, $15.5 of which is guaranteed and $21 million in the first three years. Ken Zuckerman, Jones's agent, said Wednesday the sides are communicating and reiterated that he thinks it's best for his client and the club to get a deal before camp opens.

The agents for left guard Eric Steinbach and right tackle Willie Anderson couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday as their clients approach camp with one year left on their deals with the Bengals trying to get something done with Jones, the 26-year-old coming off a Pro Bowl alternate season.

Zuckerman wouldn't go into details about a negotiation following the deal for Backus that is the richest for an offensive lineman that has never been to a Pro Bowl.

About half the teams in the NFL are in the same position as the Bengals and don't have a draft pick signed as teams and agents wait for the slotting system to lock in. About only 55 players are signed, with just 10 or so drafted on the first day in the fold.

Two factors that could slow the process are the unfinished collective bargaining agreement and trying to marry a 20-percent rise in minimum salaries with only a five-percent rise in the rookie pool.

The Bengals rookie pool has been increased beyond its original $3.7 million figure because of the addition of Virginia linebacker Ahmad Brooks in the third round of the NFL's supplemental draft.

On Wednesday, the Bengals said through public relations director Jack Brennan that they have told agents they're committed to spending the entire pool and "all players will have offers on the table we believe are commensurate with their slot."

The Bengals have had a tough stretch getting their first-rounders in on time with their last two - Chris Perry (11 days) and David Pollack (20) - missing a big chunk of camp.

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Joseph

But signs are pointing to a quicker deal this trip with cornerback Johnathan Joseph. Earlier this week, his agent, Jason Chayut, reiterated what he said last month and that his firm isn't inclined to hold out players.

The Manhattan-based Sportstars' longest holdout last season was Jacksonville receiver Matt Jones's three-day stint. Sportstars did a Camp Eve deal for another corner last year selected No. 23 by the Raiders, Nebraska's Fabian Washington, taken a spot ahead of Joseph's No. 24. The firm also represents the 20th pick, Penn State defensive end Tamba Hali.

"We'll certainly have a feel for that part of the round," said Chayut said last month.

Because of the new CBA, players in that part of the first round (picks 17-32) can't sign a deal longer than five years while players in the upper half of the round can't sign for more than six years. Players taken in the last six rounds can't sign for longer than four seasons, which could speed up some talks.

Last year rookie middle linebacker Odell Thurman missed the first couple of days because he wanted the four-year deal that other Bengals second-rounders had received, but he ended up settling for five.

Other parts of the CBA are still being cobbled together by management and the NFL Players Association, but it's unclear if the items are going to have a major influence on current negotiations.

One thing is for sure. Whitworth, the first Bengals rookie lineman to line up at both guard and tackle in line coach Paul Alexander's 12 seasons, wants in now.

After he got off the phone with Alexander on Draft Day, Whitworth looked at Colson and said, "I'm going to be a Bengal. I guess I am a Bengal now. You just have to get that contract done."

Whitworth's commitment to answering the bell is legendary in more ways than one in Baton Rouge. His 52 consecutive starts at left tackle is one off the Division I record, and it included the stretch this past season when he rallied the team and campus around Hurricane Katrina victims by getting trailers and filling them with donations.

Colson, a lawyer who runs his own firm and is an LSU board member, has the luxury of picking and choosing his clients.

"When I was asked, I was delighted because I've known him and his dad for about six years," Colson said, "and you won't find a better guy for the team and the community. He's just a super kid. It's a pleasure to do it."

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