Stephens on deck

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals expect left tackle Rod Jones to pass his last stress-echo test Tuesday at Christ Hospital and to clear him to practice Wednesday morning.

Offensive line coach Paul Alexander spoke with Jones Tuesday, 48 hours after Jones complained of chest pains and shortness of breath.

"He's relieved that the tests haven't found anything as of yet," Alexander said. "We didn't talk about football. We just talked about life and he's very thankful."

While waiting for the Jones results Tuesday, the Bengals decided not to activate cornerback Charles Fisher this season. They put him back on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) in anticipation that his knee will be fully healed for the start of next season's minicamp.

If Jones is cleared, that doesn't take away from backup right tackle Jamain Stephens' story. He'll get his first work ever in a game at left tackle if Jones is held out.

Stephens worked at times on the left side in training camp and preseason games earlier this year, but never in his four regular seasons that includes 13 starts.

Fittingly, this start would come against a frustrated Pittsburgh team that made Stephens the 29th pick in the NFL Draft out of North Carolina A&T in 1996 before releasing him early in 1999 training camp.

The Steeler knock on Stephens when he arrived in Cincinnati a few days later after he was picked up on waivers: Poor work habits. Weight problems. Just too slow .

But Stephens, who signed a two-year contract extension before the season, was one of the most diligent Bengals when it came to off-season workouts and he's kept his weight in check.

"I'm not the same player I was in Pittsburgh," Stephens said. "The Bengals have stuck with me and I've worked harder at it. I'm a better player."

John Jackson agrees. Long ago, the Steelers may have fancied Stephens replacing Jackson at left tackle. But when Jackson left the Steelers to go to San Diego in 1998, Stephens only got in the lineup because of injuries. Ironically, Jackson's pulled hamstring that took him out of the Bengals starting lineup a few weeks ago could give Stephens his shot Sunday.

"No question there's a difference," Jackson said. "A big difference. I think a lot of it has to do with growing up and maturing. His work ethic is so much better. I think he came in like some first-round picks and thought it was going to be easy."

The 6-6, 335-pound Stephens found a home here because he is Alexander's kind of lineman as a large land mass that can move people back. That's why Stephens doesn't think changing from right to left means much for him.

"Wherever I'm going to be," Stephens said, "my game is going to be power."

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