Tight end mix still Brewing

8-22-03, 12:30 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Sean Brewer thinks he should still be in the mix at tight end as the Bengals prepare for their third preseason game and first with the hamstrung Matt Schobel. He sees himself in the running for the No. 2 spot and not the waiver wire.

But Brewer isn't too sure his bosses are thinking the same way. He hasn't been on any special teams, he's been playing with third- and fourth-teamers, and he can count to three, which is how many tight ends the Bengals figure to keep when the roster is finally cut Aug. 31.

Reggie Kelly, Brewer's new-found mentor and confidant, is clearly No. 1. Brewer, who has looked much more quick and sure-handed in his third training camp, figures he's got to be on the next list.

"Reggie Kelly has paid his dues and earned everything he's got. Then we go from there and I don't think I've done anything to hurt myself," Brewer said here during the last week of training camp. "I think its Tony (Stewart), me and Schobel going for that second spot. I don't see myself competing for a roster spot. I'm looking at it like I'm competing for one of the starting jobs.

This probably surprises Brewer, but the Bengals seem to agree. Kelly and Stewart are going to take the bulk of the snaps Saturday night in the first half, with Schobel and Brewer taking the second half.

"We're not by any means through with the evaluation process," said tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes. "Reggie has distinguished himself, and

there's a small deal between Tony and Brew and Matt. There are no gimmes. Matt hasn't played yet. I've got to wait to evaluate him. Brew has done a nice job. I'll continue to evaluate him."

You remember Schobel? When Brewer was lost for the season in the third game last year, he went on to become the Bengals' Rookie of the Year with 27 catches. But he's returning to action for the first time this year Saturday after suffering a hamstring injury in the first few practices of camp.

The club insists Schobel isn't getting a free pass, but some view him as the club's best receiving tight end. That's a part of Brewer's game that has improved now that he's 30 pounds lighter at about 245, down from about 275 when he was laid up with his knee injury last season.

His offseason diet and conditioning are now the stuff of legend. He bears no resemblance to the third-round draft pick in 2001 who arrived with a paunch and a perception that he didn't have a NFL body. But with three catches for 19 yards in two pre-season games and some competent blocking, he has responded to the challenge.

"My blocking this year hasn't been as good at times as it was last year," Brewer said. "I think being down 30 pounds has something to do with that. But I know my routes are better. I've caught the ball better. I'm getting off the line better."

With the help of Kelly, Brewer has also been in a better frame of mind. Kelly, the free-agent pickup from the Falcons who is a strong spiritual presence in his new locker room, has taken Brewer under his wing. He has told Brewer that he likes his game because he plays with heart.

"I've vented to him and he's been there to listen to me," Brewer said. "He has given me motivational and spiritual ways of looking at a bad situation and turning it into a good situation. He's a great man. I really respect him and I respect his game, too."

Kelly has helped Brewer control the mental aspect of things, which may turn out to be even more important than what he has done to his body the past several months.

"He's helped my attitude," Brewer said. "It's a lot better. I take a lot more things in stride. Last year, I would have taken it a lot more personally and more offended by things."

Brewer smiled. Kelly is making it tough on him.

"It'd be a lot easier if I didn't like him," Brewer said. "All I know is I'm trying to make each day an opportunity to get better."

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