Simmons deal a birthday gift?

8-9-02, 3:50 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. _ Bengals President Mike Brown turns 67 Saturday and the wish list is a brief one for Friday's pre-season opener: a NFL-competent passing attack, another solid defensive outing, and promising performances from the top two draft picks.

Brown doesn't know if a contract extension for middle linebacker Brian Simmons is to be presented to him this weekend by daughter Katie Blackburn.

Simmons calls it, "real close," but all Brown knows is that the sides are near but not done. And if it gets signed, it is a big enough deal (most likely one of the club's biggest defensive deals ever) that would probably push the Takeo Spikes negotiations into the next salary cap year.

"It will be a big charge against our cap," Brown said. "We wouldn't be able to do a comparable deal. It would kick anything we do like that into the next year, but we obviously still want to try to sign Takeo."

As for the club's biggest question marks, kicker and tight end, Brown said Friday the club has no plans at the

moment to delve into the waiver world to bring in other players.

"The kickers are going to get their chances and when one of them misses there'll be a cry for them to be released," Brown said. "You have to take time to judge it."

In past years, there has been a hue and cry from the players that winning the pre-season games is important in setting the tone for the season. But this year, a lot of guys agree with Brown.

"Right now you're trying to develop your team and grooming it for the season," Brown said. "The winning and losing matters when the season starts. That's when you have to be ready."

The Bengals haven't won three preseason games in 14 years, haven't won a pre-season opener on the road in seven years, and haven't won a pre-season opener anywhere since right tackle Willie Anderson's rookie year of 1996.

"The big thing is to be productive," Anderson said. "You want to go out

there and look good. You want to be able to run the ball and take care of the quarterback, score some points and not just go out there and get shut out and not do anything."

In last year's 16-13 overtime loss to the Bears that opened the preseason, the Bengals' offensive line struggled protecting the quarterback in its first outing with the new protection calls of first-year offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's system.

"You shouldn't see that Friday," Anderson said. "There shouldn't be that confusion."

Head coach Dick LeBeau is simply looking for what he calls, "The Look." Roughly translated, that means consistency on offense, stingy on defense, and reliability on special teams. Which he figures puts them in the game. He's been stressing to his team they should want to look good after the effort of two weeks at training camp.

"We want to win to say that we can," said receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "But I think if our first offense looks good against their first defense, that shows that we're headed in the right direction."

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