7-23-04, 11:15 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals' youth movement moved right through the man who has played the most games on the Cincinnati defense Friday when they released a seventh-year linebacker Adrian Ross.
The move now leaves the Bengals with just 17 players (and five on defense) from the 2002 Opening Day depth chart as head coach Marvin Lewis continues to re-model the team he took over last year.
"That's why it isn't surprising," Ross said. "Everybody else is up and out of there. They're going with guys who haven't been there and guys that they're bringing in."
The Ross move reflects how much of a premium Lewis is putting on youth and his vision of a linebacker because his departure means there are only three NFL starts among the Bengals' backup linebackers and they belong to special teams ace Frank Chamberlin in a field that includes three rookies and a second-year player.
It also continues the ever so slight but pronounced youth trend. The average age of the roster on July 6, 2003 was 25.44. The average age is now about 25.25. Last year, there were 25 players with five or more seasons of NFL experience heading into camp. Now there are 23.
Ross, 29, has 34 starts and 12 came last year when he worked at strong-side linebacker before tearing an anterior cruciate knee ligament in the next-to-last game of the season. He had been moved to the middle this season to back up free-agent pickup Nate Webster when they shifted Kevin Hardy from the middle to Ross' spot, a switch with which he never agreed.
"I still feel like I'm their best linebacker," Ross said. "The good thing about this is that I won't have to sit behind guys that I'm better than. But I had a great time there and always got a lot of support from the fans. I grew up there coming out as a free agent."
Ross signed out of Colorado State in 1998 in the Bengals' linebacker class that included first-rounders Brian Simmons and Takeo Spikes, and third-rounder Steve Foley, the man he beat out in last year's training camp. Ross stuck around to play in more games in a Bengals' uniform than any of them with 90.
Ross said his knee is ready and he planned to be back in time for the first practice on July 31 at Georgetown College, but now the Bengals are going to back up Webster with third-rounder Caleb Miller, as well as other candidates.
Another fact of NFL life in the move: Ross had been scheduled to make about $1 million this year, a salary you just don't see many backups making. Plus, the Bengals got a little tighter on the salary cap when they gave defensive end Duane Clemons a two-year extension last week.
Lumped with last week's release of second-year linebacker Dwayne Levels, the Ross move now means that Miller, fellow-third-rounder Landon Johnson, and last year's fifth-rounder, Khalid Abdullah, are in position to take over the back-up roles.
Also in the mix are Chamberlin, with 48 career games, third-year player LaDairis Jackson with 15, and rookie free agent Larry Stevens out of Michigan making the move from defensive end.
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