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Washington has Bengals wondering

8-11-03, 1:30 a.m.


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. _ The Bengals thought Kelley Washington was their big, physical speed receiver of the future. A perfect running mate for the antelopish Chad Johnson.

Now they don't know what to think after Washington made the trip with the team Saturday, but then abruptly left and missed Sunday's game to go to Dallas and get his neck checked.

Glenn Rosenberg, Washington's agent, said Sunday night that he expects his client to return to the Bengals' training camp by Tuesday, when the Bengals return to practice. But Rosenberg would only say about the situation, "It's personal reasons."

The team, through spokesman Jack Brennan, said after the 28-13 loss to the Jets here in Sunday's pre-season opener that Washington chose to obtain a second medical opinion on the condition of his neck. He had surgery on it last Nov. 19 to fuse two vertebrae in his neck, which was the major reason he slipped out of the first round and into the third.

But the Bengals appear to be perplexed and a bit stunned because they were convinced Washington was healthy enough to draft and their medial people have cleared him to play.

Lewis wouldn't elaborate, but he was visibly displeased with the situation: "We won't worry about one guy around this place."

The 6-3, 216-pound Washington became the last Bengals' holdout to sign last weekend, but he had impressed quickly with his leaping ability and presence. Before he got hurt last season, he averaged 19.3 yards per his 23 catches in four games last season for Tennessee. In 13 games as a freshman for the Volunteers, he averaged 15.4 yards per his 70 catches.

The Bengals see Washington eventually moving to a starting role on the outside and sliding Peter Warrick to pretty much exclusively the slot. With Washington gone and three other receivers hurt, the Bengals' had some inexperience playing with quarterback Carson Palmer in the second half.

Washington, who turns 24 in 10 days, spent four years in the minors with the Marlins but came to football after hitting .213 for his career.

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