2-23-2001 BY GEOFF HOBSON
INDIANAPOLIS _ Bengals quarterback Akili Smith, receiver Peter Warrick and other skill players are expected at Paul Brown Stadium March 12 for the start of informal workouts.
It's the first time Smith is back in town since being arrested for a DUI earlier this month in his hometown of San Diego. Head coach Dick LeBeau has spoken to Smith "three or four times," and is anxious to get him "back into our program on a consistent basis."
"He's doing well," LeBeau said. "He has been very positive. It's not your favorite thing to go through, but I think he has done as well as can be expected."
Smith and Warrick have to be in Cincinnati for 14 weeks during the offseason because of contractual commitments. LeBeau is hoping the weather cooperates, but there will also be classroom sessions as well as indoor drills.
"We're going to do as much as we can," LeBeau said. "A quarterback and a wide receiver don't need 11 people to get some built-in timing. We want to make sure we do that part of it. It's voluntary, but our players will be ready to do it."
The Bengals are trying to sign at least one veteran quarterback and are looking at others in the draft, but LeBeau said the club is committed to getting Smith on track.
"That's one of our priorities," LeBeau said. "We want to see what we saw him do when he became one of the top quarterbacks in the collegiate ranks."
Smith should be able to get fired up when he hears his arch-rival, Browns quarterback Tim Couch, is already in Cleveland working out with new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and getting input into the new playbook.
Bengals new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski plans to do the same when Smith arrives. But Arians, who interviewed for the Bengals' job, is also already making mechanical changes with Couch.
The coach is being careful because Couch is coming off thumb surgery. But he's trying to get Couch to shorten his stride when he throws, as well as being more consistent hitting his marks on three- five- and seven-step drop-back passes and play-action throws.
GIVE AND RECEIVE: Don't mark down left tackles Leonard Davis and Kenyatta Walker for the fourth pick in the draft just yet. LeBeau says his top priority is improving the offensive production and he's looking longingly at the draft's two top receivers in Michigan's David Terrell and North Carolina State's Koren Robinson.
"If we can get Darnay (Scott) back and Peter's first year wasn't a disappointment and he'll continue to grow," LeBeau said. "And looking at this draft or in free agency, we're at the point to take an area of our team and make it into a strength."
LeBeau is also looking at the trio of receivers that came into last season with three NFL catches among them in Craig Yeast and rookies Ron Dugans and Danny Farmer.
"We had to force (feed) where a lot of players had a lot of snaps this year and normally they would not have been exposed to that. In the long run, that will be a benefit to us."
O'DWYER TALKS HANG: Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn and scout Duke Tobin met with the agent for left guard Matt O'Dwyer here Friday. But Mark Bartelstein said the talks were "conceptual," with numbers not really discussed.
"Matt would like to come back," Bartelstein said. "He likes the coaching staff and he thinks they're headed in the right direction. But right now we're trying to work through it."
Neither side is discussing numbers, but O'Dwyer is clearly looking for a raise from his average of $1.3 million. Center Rich Braham is also looking for a healthy hike from his $1.5 million average, but he's also unsigned and LeBeau is looking at possibly having at least two new starters on the offensive line.
"We like those people," LeBeau said. "(But) are we common sense enough to know we definitely have to learn to exist without some of those people? Yes we will. . .I think it will be a surmountable problem, but it will be one that we will not bury our head in the sand."
MONDAY SERVICE:** Visitation and the funeral service for Ben-Gal Michele Noah are set for Monday night at Craver-Riggs Funeral Home, 529 Main St., Milford. Visitation is from 5:30-8 p.m. with the service to follow.
Noah, who died Friday, finished the season cheering for the squad despite being diagnosed with melanoma in October and after having all her lymph glands removed.
"As a coach, she was everything you could ask for," said Charlotte Jacobs, the squad's coordinator. "She was talented and committed and she's very much missed."