Which way Leftwich?

4-7-03, 4 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals' evaluation process for the No. 1 pick in the draft kicked into the final gear Monday when Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich handled the mobility part of his workout in front of NFL coaches and scouts.

It continues Tuesday at Paul Brown Stadium. Tom Condon, Leftwich's agent, said his client planned to accompany Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese back to Cincinnati Monday night so he can visit with team officials Tuesday. Also on hand Monday at Manatee High School in Sarasota, Fla., were Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, according to sources outside the club.

Sources outside the team have also indicated the Bengals plan to host this week USC quarterback Carson Palmer and Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman. They indicated Palmer might even be in town this weekend for Lewis' first workout as the Bengals close in on starting contract negotiations for the top pick. Lewis said last month he'd like to start talking two weeks before the draft and it is 19 days away.

But the Bengals think so highly of Leftwich that they pushed off making any final decisions until Monday and Leftwich's first workout since revealing he played in Marshall's bowl game this year on a stress fracture just above his left foot that he suffered Nov. 2 against Akron.

Since he already had a rod put in his left tibia to help heal a hairline fracture as a junior, Leftwich's mobility is under tremendous scrutiny. All indications are he passed muster Monday in the 40-yard dash, the short shuttle, and three-cone drill, with NFL.com reporting in the 4.85-second range in the 40, 4.50 in the short shuttle, and 7.71 seconds in the cone drill.

NFL.com also said Leftwich looked good moving side to side working in front of Lewis, Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio, with the draft's eighth pick, Carolina head coach John Fox, with the ninth pick, and Ravens head coach Brian Billick with the 10th. Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome was also there, as was Jerry Angelo of the Bears, holders of the fourth pick.

Later Monday, ESPN.com reported the 6-5 Leftwich weighed 242 pounds, a pound more than he had weighed at the NFL scouting combine five weeks ago.

Lewis couldn't be reached for comment after the workout. Condon said he got positive reaction from the NFL crowd after Leftwich threw some of his 70 passes on rollouts, all on snaps from under center.

"He showed them what he had to show them," said Condon, who sent a letter to all NFL teams from renowned orthopedic man James Andrews testifying Leftwich needs no more surgery and is fit. "He showed them that he can move and everybody has already seen plenty of tape on the guy. They know he can throw the ball."

Although he threw it well enough long enough (more than 12,000 yards and 89 touchdown passes during his three seasons) to stop any one-year-wonder talk, he never did it from under center. That's another reason Monday for the big crowd.

The pros wanted to see if Leftwich is able to get the same velocity and accuracy when he drops back to throw as he did when he stood and took a shot-gun snap. Plus, there was concern even before his second fracture about his mobility getting out of the pocket.

The Bengals are probably more interested in that than his injury situation, because they indicated at the combine they had seen enough to think he was healthy. Plus, David Klingler never made the transition from run-and-shoot quarterback after the Bengals took him with the sixth pick in the 1992 draft.

Club officials were impressed during Leftwich's combine interview, where some compared his bouncy personality to a young Boomer Esiason. Whether they have been impressed enough to choose him ahead of Palmer, Newman, or Michigan State wide receiver Charlie Rogers is another question.

They are certainly interested enough to invite him on campus Tuesday to get a closer look.

"Not just the Bengals, but everyone who has sat down to talk with him has been impressed with his ability to communicate and his leadership capacity," Condon said.

Condon told the Bengals he didn't want to start talking about a contract until they saw Leftwich work out.

"That's how we left it initially," Condon said. "We haven't talked about it yet, so we'll see what happens."

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