Wilson remembers when

5-4-01, 4:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

From The Department of What Might Have Been:

Bengals defensive end Reinard Wilson, the last Cincinnati first-round draft pick who was supposed to become a sackmaster, is rooting for Justin Smith to do what he would still like to do.

Get to the quarterback. And Wilson thinks Smith, a defensive end from Missouri the Bengals took with the fourth pick, will have a better shot than he did four years ago.

"I think he'll have an easier time getting used to it than I did coming in because he's playing the same position that he did in college," Wilson said. "For me, it was a big switch and I didn't get back to my old position until (1999)."

The Bengals drafted Wilson, Florida State's all-time sack leader as a defensive end, as the 14th player in the 1997 NFL Draft and made him an outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment.

But Wilson couldn't adjust to dropping into pass coverage or rushing the quarterback without dropping into a three-point stance. He has just 15 career sacks and is now mainly a third-down player.

But the Bengals still feel he can be effective in that role and haven't been quick to take him out of the mix even though he's going into the last year of his contract. They also like his try-hard attitude.

"I hope he comes in and gets 10 sacks," Wilson said of Smith. "That's exactly what we need, and if he does it, I'll be happy for him and the team."

With the drafting of Smith and the free-agent signing of left end Kevin Henry, Wilson looks to be locked in a fight for the roster with Jevon Langford.**

MCGEE READY:** Tight end Tony McGee is ready to do all the minicamp drills after missing the last two games with a broken ankle. The nine-year man sounded and looked in fine fettle after a productive offseason.

"I really worked on my explosion with the ankle and it feels strong," McGee said. "It's the most I've caught the ball in any offseason. I feel pretty sharp."

That's because for the first time he can remember, he lived a post pattern away from a quarterback. He turned out to be teammate Scott Mitchell, and they hooked up twice a week and will make it three days a week in June in Orlando, Fla.

McGee will have some more help next year, when Vikings Pro Bowl quarterback Daunte Culpepper is expected to move near him. Mitchell actually lives next to former Bengals quarterback Jeff Bake, but Blake spends much of the offseason throwing with the Saints in New Orleans.

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