Sunday, May 02, 1999

BENGALS NOTEBOOK


Francis wants to compete

BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One of the signs of a Cincinnati spring is the Bengals complaining about the poor condition of outside linebacker James Francis, who didn't reach his $250,000 workout incentive in two of the last three offseasons.

        But he did this year, checking in at his playing weight of 258 pounds at Saturday's mini-camp. He completed what he called the most strenuous offseason of his 10-year career. Francis, who once showed up for a mini-camp at 274 pounds, worked with a trainer in his hometown of Houston. Francis will face a training camp fight for the starting left outside spot with second-year man Steve Foley.

        Foley, slowed late last season by an ankle injury, is already ahead of Francis on the depth chart.

        “I didn't do it for the bonus, I did it for myself,” said Francis, 30. “I'm getting older. I've got to compete with these young guys. I look forward to it. I think they'll bring out the best in me and I don't have a problem with that. I still want to play this game. I've got a lot left. My body feels great. I know more about the game than ever. I think it's a matter of staying healthy and since I'm getting older, I have to do more.”

Welcome wagon
        The Bengals dealt a blow to their league-wide image of being player-unfriendly. Each of the 32 new players — rookies and veteran free agents — received a gift basket Saturday that included a jewelry store gift certificate, a house and apartment guide, chocolate and samples of beer and Cincinnati-style chili.

        “I've heard the horror stories,” said nose tackle Oliver Gibson, just arrived from the Steelers. “But I just don't see it. I come from a great organization, but these facilities are much better than what's in Pittsburgh, and from what I see, there's a tremendous resolve to win here.”

        Guard Brian DeMarco, who comes from the high-powered Jacksonville organization, sees a fresh start.

        “The organization is making a conscious effort to improve the way people perceive the Cincinnati Bengals throughout the league,” DeMarco said. “It's a step in a way to become a first-class organization. That's the great thing about football. It can change day to day, week to week.”

        Gibson appreciated the basket, but he'll probably end up giving it away.

        “I don't drink and I shouldn't be eating chili this time of year,” Gibson said. “But I'm definitely keeping the gift certificate.”

Shaping up
        The club was pleased with the relative shape of the players. They'd like to see some five or 10 pounds lighter, but there was nothing like the weighty issues of past mini-camps involving Francis, David Dunn and Dan Wilkinson.

        Strength coach Kim Wood didn't see any team records set in the morning lifting session, but he recorded some impressive efforts. Wood estimated the fullback tandem of veteran Brian Milne and rookie Nick Williams each did 33-34 repetitions at 225 pounds, “what the good linemen are doing at the combine.”

        Defensive end John Copeland, long knocked for his lack of strength, did five reps at 275 pounds, four more than last year, “and he's doing more than double what he did at 225.” Defensive lineman Glen Steele increased his reps by about 10 into the 29 range.

        Safety Cory Hall, the club's third-round pick, showed up looking and running impressively. Hall is a well put-together 6 feet, 205 pounds, and rung up an estimated 19 reps in the lifting. He said if he didn't run a 4.4-second 40 yard dash, “something is wrong,” but it appeared no one hit that magic figure at Spinney just before afternoon practice.

       



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