Smith passes MRI

5-09-01, 4:50 p.m.

Updated: 5-09-01, 9:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals quarterback Akili Smith has a small amount of tendinitis in his throwing shoulder and should be able to resume limited passing next week.

Smith underwent a magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI) Wednesday for soreness in his right shoulder and it revealed some inflammation in the rotator cuff. He'll take Thursday off after sitting out Wednesday's voluntary practice.

"All he needs is rest," said Bengals trainer Paul Sparling. "I would think he can throw again next week, but we'll ease him into it. He won't be throwing 40 or 50 balls, but he should be back to normal in no time and have no problem."

Smith has been complaining of tenderness in the back of the shoulder for about a week.

"I don't think it's serious, but if it's something I need to get fixed, I want to know now," Smith said. "I think what happened is that I came back from a two-week layoff really throwing hard and hurt it."

Club officials haven't detected any loss of strength or velocity in Smith's passes even though he says he's been fighting the pain since minicamp started Friday. He took off Sunday's second practice, but worked Monday and Tuesday.

"It doesn't seem to be getting better, so let's find out what's going on," Smith said.

When Smith returned from a two-week break April 30 to resume throwing in preparation for last weekend's minicamp, he was the only quarterback throwing to about a dozen receivers that included wideouts, tight ends and running backs.

"Easy 100 balls a day," Smith said. "It's nobody's fault. I did throw a lot."

A former minor-league catcher, Smith says he has never had pain in the back of his shoulder. He did have pain in the front when he injured his rotator cuff.

"This doesn't feel like the same thing," Smith said.

ON GUARD: With Richmond Webb and John Jackson settling in at left tackle, Rod Jones is working at left guard this week. With Jones at a svelte 317 pounds, the Bengals are wondering if he can be a utility guy as a lineman who plays everywhere but center.

"I think Rod Jones can play any spot on either side," said offensive line coach Paul Alexander. "He's quicker than he has been."

**

SPECIAL ORDER:** Special teams coach Al Roberts is walking around like he won the lottery. Fullback Lorenzo Neal stepped on the field as a Bengal for his first full practice Wednesday and already Roberts can plug him into five of six special teams. You also have to call him an odds-on-favorite to be voted special teams captain.

"He was just talking about it today," Roberts said. "He knows how important special teams are. He says it can win and lose games and he's right because he's been through it. It's a great move and not just because he blocked for Eddie George. He plays the key spots on special teams."

Neal, a lethal wedge blocker on kick returns, is best known on teams for handing the ball to Frank Wycheck to start the "Music City Miracle," of '99 that spurred Tennessee to the Super Bowl.

"Smart player," Roberts said. "That's what made that play." **

INJURY UPDATE:** Running back Brandon Bennett is taking some time off with a slightly protruding back disk. The club says he'll be fine, but it wants him to change his workout routine that includes a huge amount of situps. . . Linebacker Steve Foley sat out Wednesday's practice with a sinus problem.

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