Signings open draft

Posted: 9:30 p.m.

When the news conference introducing Laveranues Coles ends Thursday, it ushers in the next phase of the Bengals free agency push encompassing the search for a fullback, backup quarterback and backup offensive lineman, preferably one that can play right tackle and guard.

Bengals vice president Troy Blackburn, point man in the free agency negotiations, oversaw accomplishment of the three major priorities when the club inked a veteran running back, a veteran receiver, and re-signed safety Chris Crocker.

There was disappointment at the loss of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the franchise's third all-time receiver, but the additions of Benson and Coles have opened up the first couple of rounds of the NFL Draft.

The Bengals have plenty of needs, but they don't have a gaping hole that they must fill with the No. 6 or No. 38 picks. Particularly at No. 6, where they can now take anything, and that includes Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree if he slips because of his foot stress fracture. But, if someone wants to jump and get Crabtree, now the Bengals have the luxury of trading down if they want to talk turkey at No. 6.

(Seattle, picking at No. 4, is presumably out of the receiver sweepstakes now that Houshmandzadeh is in the fold.)

The Bengals have no visits lined up with receivers now that Coles is a Bengal.

They spent Wednesday night trying to get a deal with 49ers backup quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan. If that doesn't happen, Super Bowl quarterback Rex Grossman visits Thursday to be followed by former first-round pick J.P. Losman.

Also Thursday is an intriguing visitor in restricted free agent fullback Naufahu Tahi of the Vikings. After a fine year blocking for Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson, there is much angst in the Minnesota media about Tahi's possible departure. If the Bengals sign him to an offer sheet, the Vikings have a week to match. If they don't match, the Bengals don't have to give up compensation because they signed him as a free agent out of BYU in 2006.

Remember the '06 preseason finale in Indy? The 6-0, 254-pound Tahi moved to tailback for the first time as a pro because of injuries at running back and barged for 54 yards on 11 carries. The Bengals cut him the next day and put him on the practice squad before releasing him later in the season.

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