BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals' free-agent focus shifted back to the line Thursday in the hope some playoff magic could rub off.
They set up a visit with Vikings left tackle Todd Steussie and inquired about Giants defensive end Cedric Jones, players who matched up in the NFC championship game.
Former Steelers Pro Bowl inside linebacker Levon Kirkland visited Paul Brown Stadium Thursday and insisted he's still the player that led Pittsburgh's Super Bowl defense that current Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau coordinated in the mid-90s.
Bengals middle linebacker Brian Simmons would be the man who would have to move to left outside linebacker if Kirkland signed, and Simmons said he expressed some concern to LeBeau Thursday.
"But he told me it would make us better and that's good enough for me," Simmons said. "I haven't played over there and I don't know if I'd be able to run around as much. But I'll do whatever they want me to do. I think I could play it."
But that doesn't seem to be on the Bengals' mind at the moment. With linebacker the club's strongest position, they're now intent on signing Steussie or the Packers' Ross Verba to possibly replace Rod Jones at left tackle.
Steussie, who has had interest from
Cleveland and Tampa Bay, visits Cincinnati Monday. He was cut Wednesday for salary cap reasons, but will still be looking for a big number.
The 6-6, 308-pound Steussie, a former two-time Pro Bowler, turned down a reported $4 million per year offer from the Vikings before going on the market and could be looking for a one-year deal.
The Bengals would like to get him long term for his solid play, experience, and his reputation as a leader in the Minnesota locker room. It was Steussie who publicly took on the Vikings All-World receiver, Randy Moss, by suggesting he was too good of a player to have a bad attitude.
Plus, Steussie is a rock. Since being taken with the 19th pick out of California in 1994, he has started all but one of a possible 112 games.
The 6-4, 270-pound Jones, the fifth pick in the 1996 draft, has been a solid run player for the Giants in two years as a starter. He's not the sackmaster the Bengals seek with 15 career sacks, but they think he's an interesting player.
The 270-pound Kirkland, 32, came to town vowing he's got plenty of gas left and defended his pass coverage skills in the wake of the Steelers cutting him to make room under the cap.
"Before we brought him over here, we got a good look at Levon," LeBeau said. "I don't see any difference in him getting to center field than I ever did. The amazing thing about Levon is the size and strength he possesses."
Kirkland, who has visited Seattle, says he came to Cincinnati simply because LeBeau asked and that he would base his view of the Bengals from LeBeau: "A linebacker plays by instinct. . .and I trust coach LeBeau."
Kirkland says he's in about the best shape of his life and "any team that gets me is going to be pleasantly surprised."
Even if the Bengals don't sign Kirkland, their linebackers will shuffle if left outside linebacker Steve Foley tries defensive end. Simmons would stay put in the middle and Adrian Ross could play Foley's spot.
"I think Foley would make a good end," said right outside linebacker Takeo Spikes of the 260-pound Foley who could get to 270. "That's what he played in college. I don't know if he can play end, but I've seen him get heat on the passer."