Westbrook injury shatters calm

7-28-02, 11:35 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ The Bengals' euphoric ride into training camp literally came to a crunching halt Sunday when new big-play wide receiver Michael Westbrook broke his left wrist late in practice.

Westbrook, who kept practicing after he fell on it, discovered late Sunday night that he had broken the navicular bone. It's a tricky injury, which could very well mean a surgery that would shelve him for four to six weeks. Trainer Paul Sparling said Westbrook will meet with a hand specialist Monday morning in Cincinnati and if surgery isn't required, he could miss less time.

But after talking to Westbrook Sunday night, receivers coach Steve Mooshagian said he wouldn't be surprised if Westbrook played in the Aug. 9 pre-season opener in Buffalo. Until he's ready, the Bengals plan to replace their most experienced receiver at the X position with a combination of two second-year players in Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Another X receiver, Danny Farmer, isn't expected back from a hamstring injury until the third pre-season game.

Westbrook broke the navicular in his right wrist during his career year in 1999 with the Redskins when he fractured the bone during a game against the Eagles. He kept playing, finished the game with 152 yards, and played the next week with a cast.

"He told me they tried to put a screw in there and there was no way he was going to let them do it," Mooshagian said. "He told me he's got a tremendous pain threshold and he told me he's going to be back playing. I believe him. He's a tough guy."

Westbrook, 30, signed a three-year, $4.5 million deal on July 2 and

is designated to replace Darnay Scott in the starting lineup in a bid to beef up one of the league's punchless big-play offenses.

Westbrook had his best day of the three practices Sunday, when he made some diving catches. But it was also a big day for Houshmandzadeh.

"T.J. has become a guy like Farmer," Mooshagian said. "He's becoming very reliable and he's looked excellent down here. It's a shame because today you could tell that Michael was just coming around and getting used to it. The one thing it will do is give more reps to T.J. and Chad."

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