Still no left tackle

4-22-01, 12:25 a.m. BY GEOFF HOBSON

Ross Verba and Todd Steussie and Kenyatta Walker and Maurice Williams have come and gone and the Bengals are still staring at Rod Jones as one of their left tackles two weeks before mini-camp.

But head coach Dick LeBeau said Saturday night that there are four rounds left Sunday in the NFL Draft and "there are some names up there we think can compete if we decide to take them." Still, LeBeau knows finding a starting left tackle on the second day of the draft is needle-in-the-haystack stuff.

LeBeau has shown he likes John Jackson as a starter, but the Bengals fear at 36 years of age he won't be able to play all 16 games. The new and improved and svelte Rod Jones, the 317-pound version who showed up last week, isn't the reason the Bengals backed off Walker and Williams, respectively, in the first and second rounds.

The reasoning was quickest impact and not need. Both Walker and Williams would have to move from right tackle to left and take time to adjust. If they could at all.

With defensive end Justin Smith and wide receiver Chad Johnson staying in the same spots, they figure to contribute quicker as rookies.

"We are encouraged by Rod Jones' off-season work," LeBeau said. "We feel like we have a good veteran player in John Jackson. We're going to have competition."

With no left tackle in sight, the possibility of moving Willie Anderson from right tackle to left still looms. All LeBeau would say about that is, "I will say this. Anything we think will make us a better football team we will do."

SMITH VISITS: First-round pick Justin Smith flies to Cincinnati Sunday to get his first look at Paul Brown Stadium and meet the media.

LAPHAM's CALL: One Cincinnati media guy who has seen a handful of Smith's games at Missouri is Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham. Lapham, the former Bengals offensive lineman who is a Fox Network analyst for Big 12 games, wonders if Smith can hold up against the run.

"People are going to test him and run right at him," said Lapham, who saw Nebraska power at Smith. "He's a big pursuit guy. He's relentless and runs people down from the back side. So people will run it at him to see if he has the anchor. That will be his challenge."

Although Lapham thinks Smith is a top 10 pick and not a top 5, he has high regard for Smith's approach to the game. Missouri coach Larry Smith told Lapham twice last season that they had to lock Smith out of the weight room for fear he was wearing down.

Smith also told Lapham that at a similar point in future Hall-of-Fame linebacker Junior Seau's college career, Justin Smith showed all the same things.

"That's high praise," Lapham said. "And I know this. He'll try hard."

COREY ON THE MIND: When the Browns opted for wide receiver Quincy Morgan in the second round, a murmur went through the Bengals' room. The feeling is the Browns are now going to run at Cincinnati Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon in free agency.

And Browns director of football operations Dwight Clark said they might even though Cleveland took Miami running back James Jackson in the third round.

The Bengals figured if the Browns took a back in the first 34 picks, they would have the guy they want. But now the Bengals expect a Cleveland challenge.

MITCHELL UPDATE: Scott Mitchell, who finished the season as the Bengals' starting quarterback, could sign with the Steelers by the end of Sunday's draft.

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