Westbrook shoots for pre-season finale

8-7-02, 2:40 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ It has been the most difficult of times personally and professionally for Michael Westbrook

Westbrook arrived back here at training camp Tuesday night for the first time since shattering the navicular bone in his left wrist 10 days ago. On Monday, Westbrook helped bury an uncle to whom he was close, John Westbrook, after he died suddenly of a seizure at age 40.

The sudden death came a year after he lost his father. He has been told these things happen in bunches and now he's hoping football season has stopped the streak.

"It was a rough week back at home," said Westbrook Wednesday of his trip to Detroit. "He was the kind of guy who would have wanted me to remember him, but to move on, too.

"I'm not the kind of guy who dedicates seasons," Westbrook said. "If I have a good season, it will be for him. I don't want to dedicate a season to him and then not have a good one."

But professionally, Westbrook remains convinced he can help the Bengals in a big way and says he's shooting to be back in time for the Aug. 29 pre-season finale at Paul Brown Stadium against the Falcons.

Trainer Paul Sparling has tentatively scheduled his return from surgery for the Sept 8 regular-season opener at PBS, but Westbrook thinks he can have a game under his belt by then.

"If I had done this during the season, I would have been right back

in there and probably wouldn't have had the surgery," Westbrook said. "But I didn't like the idea of two bones being separated and I had time to heal it."

Westbrook knows of what he speaks. He said he broke the right navicular in the middle of the 1999 season in Washington much the same way. He rolled on it and the force of his weight snapped the bone.

"I didn't know I broke it either time," Westbrook said. "This last time, I finished practice and then took a nap.''

In 1999, Westbrook ended up not missing a game despite wearing a cast the next week and didn't want to come out of the lineup during his career year in a season the Redskins won the NFC East.

"I'm not going to let a little thing like this stop me from helping this team," Westbrook said. "I'll be out there running routes soon and then I'll be catching the ball."

Sparling figures he can't catch a ball for another 10 days or so, but receivers coach Steve Mooshagian said he thinks Westbrook can run some routes next week.

Westbrook and Mooshagian don't think learning the offense is going to be a problem even though he's missed a week of meetings. Before Wednesday night's practice, Mooshagian planned to give him tapes and scripts of the practices he's missed so he can go through and match them up.

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