Texans appear to look past Bengals

2-6-02, 7:10 p.m. **

Updated:** 2-7-02, 7:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

With Houston set to select as few as a dozen veterans off the NFL's expansion list, don't look for the Bengals to lose any of the five players they have exposed to the Feb. 18 draft.

The Texans have yet to contact any of the five about coming to Houston for a physical, an indication General Manager Charley Casserly is going in a different direction. The agent for rookie linebacker Riall Johnson said Thursday the Texans have contacted him about his client but have not made clear their intentions. He plans to talk to them later this week.

Tight end Tony McGee said he has not heard from the Texans, as did the agents for tackles John Jackson and Jamian Stephens and defensive end Jevon Langford.

Johnson, a sixth-round pick set to make the second-year minimum of about $250,000, could be talented and cheap enough for the Texans. Plus, Texans head coach Dom Capers plans to employ pretty much the samec defense the Bengals play. But Casserly told "The Houston Chronicle," this week he would draft between only 12 to 18 players to take up the required 38 percent of the $71.8 million salary cap.

"You take fewer players, but you take quality players even though their (salary) cap numbers are higher than probably what you anticipated they would be," Casserly told the newspaper.

Many teams have exposed attractive veterans with high salary-cap numbers because the Texans would take the cap hit if they draft the player. While teams see the expansion draft as a one-time Get-Out-of-Jail-card to rid themselves of cap problems, the Texans don't want to blow money on players who won't finish out their contracts because of age and injuries in saddling the club with "dead," money.

By taking so few veterans off the expansion list, the Texans will have to be busy in the free-agency season that starts March 1.

VERDUCCI NO COWBOY: Bengals tight ends coach Frank Verducci and the Cowboys have parted ways in the club's search for an offensive line coach. The Bengals gave Dallas permission to talk to Verducci last week and he spoke with Cowboys' new offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet last week over the phone.

"It wasn't meant to be and that's

fine," Verducci said Wednesday. "It was an honor that Bruce called and talked to me. I'm very happy here. The people are great to work with. I enjoy the players and the coaches."

When Coslet was head coach of the Bengals, he hired Verducci as tight ends coach in 1999 after Verducci was Hayden Fry's offensive line coach at Iowa the previous seven seasons.

Bob Wylie went from Bengals tight ends coach to the Bears offensive line coach in 1999. Wylie also worked as a tight ends coach under Coslet in 1990 and 1991, when Coslet was the head coach of the Jets.

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