Tight ends top list

5-5-02, 3:35 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The two remaining priorities for the Bengals as they prepare for training camp are working on extensions with linebackers Takeo Spikes or Brian Simmons, or both, and signing a veteran free-agent if one becomes available in the June 1 cuts.

One position where they could need help depending on the medical is tight end, since as of Sunday afternoon their two top players in rookies Sean Brewer and Matt Schobel were shelved with hamstring problems. Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel, surveyed the position during Sunday morning's practice at minicamp and shook his head.

"It looks like an aide station" Lippincott said. "It's hard to tell what we've got because virtually no one is healthy."

Call it "The Curse of Marco," or "The Tony Spell," but the Bengals haven't been able to keep a tight end healthy since Battaglia's appendectomy last season and the release of McGee two weeks ago.

The Bengals lost this year's third-round pick when Schobel's chronic hamstring flared again Sunday and knocked him out of the last part of the

morning practice and all of the afternoon workout.

That came a day after H-Back Nick Williams showed up about 15 pounds overweight at 279 pounds and tweaked his hip flexor running a 40-yard dash, which cost him the rest of a minicamp that ends with a Monday morning practice.

And that came a day after Brewer couldn't talk the Bengals out of shelving him for three weeks with a mild hamstring tear.

Bengals President Mike Brown won't rule out pursuing a tight end post June 1 ("We're going to look at all positions,"), but he is adamant about developing the last two third-round picks in Schobel and Brewer.

"It's a possibility they may not be back working again until about June 1," Brown said. "It's never good to miss any time, but these little nicks shouldn't keep them out of training camp. We're going to get them together with our trainers and concentrate on getting them healthy because they've got talent."

Before he got hurt, Schobel had impressed with his speed and hands, but he needs a lot of field work because he only played the position in college two years and because he's trying to become a better blocker. He had been getting plenty of snaps with Brewer and Williams out until he felt the hamstring that he originally hurt early last season pull again.

"It's frustrating, but I don't see this lasting too long," Schobel said. "I want to get it right. It got better and I didn't have any problems with it during the season, then it got irritated a few weeks before the (March 1) combine. I just need to get it right."

Schobel has to leave with all the rookies Monday afternoon, but he can return May 16 for voluntary workouts. He thinks he'll be able to practice, but he also said, "I have to be smart about it this time."

Trainer Paul Sparling thinks he can fix Schobel once he comes back May 16 with one-on-one rehab. He's got soreness in his left hip that Sparling thinks is from over compensation. Brewer may not be back until July 26 at training camp.

When he returns, Schobel wants to work on his total game after a career at TCU he caught 29 balls for six touchdowns. He says it's been helpful watching the other tight ends, but he must only be watching Kirk McMullen because he's the only guy with any NFL experience (two starts) left on the field.

"Kirk McMullen is getting lost in all this, but he has really improved," Lippincott said. "His hands are softer, his routes are better. He has worked on his game somewhere."

Brown thinks it's "improbable," that the Bengals will find an impact player at any position post-June 1. "But there could be a stop-gap guy for a year or two. Most of the guys we expect to be out there are either too old, too overpaid, too injured, too something."

The only tight end on ESPN's potential June 1 cuts is Buffalo's Jay Riemersma. One possible interesting guy is Redskins defensive end Marco Coleman. According to national figures, the Bengals have about $2 million to spend on extension or free agents under the 2002 salary cap.

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