Third receiver debated

4-10-01, 7:20 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The good news about the Bengals going to a heavy diet of three-receiver sets is they think it could be a way to spread out the defensive walls in Baltimore and Tennessee.

The bad news is they still need to find a big, speedy outside receiver to play opposite Darnay Scott on the outside and Peter Warrick in the slot.

They aren't closing the door on people like last year's rookies in Ron Dugans and Danny Farmer, as well as third-year man Craig Yeast. Receivers coach Steve Mooshagian says they have shown improvement this spring.

But the Bengals also know they could use a combination of the 6-2 Dugans and Farmer and the 4.4-second 40-yard dash of Yeast.

"We tried on (Dallas free-agent receiver) James McKnight and it didn't work out," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski . "The next step will be in the draft."

The second round isn't a bad place to look, considering the Bengals found three of their top five all-time receivers (Carl Pickens, Cris Collinsworth and Scott) in the round.

Free agency is also a possibility. New quarterback Jon Kitna urged the pursuit of McKnight because of their relationship in Seattle and now Kitna wouldn't mind if the Bengals courted another Seahawks receiver in Sean Dawkins.

Angelo Wright, Dawkins' agent, said the Bengals made a preliminary inquiry this week. Dawkins, 30, isn't a burner, but he's the veteran possession receiver the Bengals didn't have last year. He's got 425 catches and 25 touchdowns in eight NFL seasons and had his most productive year with Kitna in 1999,

when Dawkins averaged 17.1 yards for his 58 catches.

There's a fear in the Bengals' draft room that this deep field of wide receivers is so well advertised that five could be gone in the first 15 picks and eight could be gone in the first round, leaving little for Cincinnati at the 36th pick.

Mooshagian thinks eight to 10 receivers could be gone by the Bengals' second choice. But he thinks 11, 12, 13 won't be bad, either.

"It depends because there's a lot of good defensive tackles and cornerbacks and there could be a run on one of those positions and you'd get an excellent receiver in the second round," Mooshagan said. "I think you could get a good one in the third round because there are so many who have that combination of 6-1, 6-2 and run 4.5. It's hard to pass up a big, attractive target."

But Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel, says the club can't afford to go into any round targeting any one position.

"When we've gone for just the best player in the second round instead of need," Lippincott said, "it's turned out pretty well for us historically."

Lippincott can look back to 1992, when the Bengals weren't looking for safeties or receivers in the first and second rounds and came away with Darryl Williams and Pickens, respectively. Or 1994, when the Bengals gleefully took Scott in the second round when they thought he would be long gone.

Two years after taking running back Ki-Jana Carter with the first pick in the 1995 NFL Draft, the Bengals grabbed their Pro Bowl running back in the second round with Corey Dillon. The Bengals, who actually discussed taking Dillon with their first pick, didn't blink taking him at No. 2.

Compare that to last year, when the Bengals didn't feel quite right in the second round taking a player for need (cornerback Mark Roman) and leaving a projected 10-year left tackle on the board in Marvel Smith.

So if the Bengals pick a receiver in the second round, he'll have to be better than a defensive tackle, a defensive end, a cornerback and a tight end on the board.

Mooshagian's first-round locks: Michigan's David Terrell, Clemson's Rod Gardner, North Carolina State's Koren Robinsion, Oregon State's Chad Johnson, Miami's Santana Moss.

Afer that, "it's what you like. There are real fast guys that might not be that big, guys not as fast that run great routes, or one-year wonders."

But if the Bengals don't get a receiver somewhere in the next few months, it may come back to haunt. Quarterback Akili Smith said it's shaping up that the three-receiver set could become the staple formation.

"You have to have threats. Guys that can win (matchups)," Bratkowski said. "If the defense comes up to stop the running back in the one-back, three-receiver set , you have to have guys that win on the outside. You'd like to think we have guys who can develop, and if we draft one, we're still going to be young there. But the more you have to choose from, the better off you are."

Mooshagian has been around a little bit more recently than some of the other road-bound coaches because the Bengals want to get a handle on how their young wideouts are progressing during informal passing sessions with the quarterbacks.

"Dugans is more comfortable with the new system," Mooshagian said. "He ran a lot of these routes in college and we're running more routes that fit him, more hooks and cuts. Farmer just keeps being steady. We'll see how far they come."

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