7-12-01, 5:00 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
With eight days before training camp, the Bengals turned up the heat Thursday on their roster competition when they signed their third free-agent defensive linemen of the offseason in former Colts tackle Bernard Whittington.
Whittington, who turns 31 next month, agreed to a two-year deal and joins Tom Barndt and Glen Steele in the derby to back up Oliver Gibson and Tony Williams in the middle of the line.
But the Bengals' bid for Tampa Bay defensive end Chidi Ahanatou stalled when he postponed trips to Cincinnati and Buffalo for personal reasons and doesn't appear to be an option at this point.
Still, the Bengals feel they are getting a tackle who can also play end in the 6-5, 280-pound Whittington. He has played on the outside at various times during his seven seasons, all with Indianapolis since signing with the Colts in 1994 as a free-agent out of Indiana.
"He gives us a competent, durable lineman with experience," said Bengals scout Duke Tobin,
who negotiated the deal. "Look how we got hurt at that spot with all the injuries last season. That's a good spot to have depth."
Whittington's decision was a mild surprise since he visited Chicago Wednesday, when he met with Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache, his long-time position coach in Indy.
The Bengals figure to keep eight linemen, a position that has suddenly been squeezed with the signings of Whittington, Williams (a pure tackle) and end Kevin Henry.
With Gibson, Williams and first-rounder Justin Smith projected as locks, it should an interesting battle among Henry and his fellow veteran ends in John Copeland, Vaughn Booker, Jevon Langford and Reinard Wilson. Barndt and Steele, the veteran tackles, in a mix that looks precarious for even solid veterans.
"These guys are a step up from role players," said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel. "They're guys who have produced and will do well in a wave situation where they rotate."