Monday, September 06, 1999


Stephens' suspension news to Bengals

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jamain Stephens
        The Bengals knew they were going to miss safety Tremain Mack for the first four games because of a violation of the NFL's alcohol abuse policy.

        But when they picked up right tackle Jamain Stephens on waivers from the Steelers last month, they didn't know they could lose him for four weeks because of a violation of the league's substance abuse policy.

        “We found out about it when he came up to us on the practice field a few weeks after he came here,” said Bengals President Mike Brown.

        The Bengals say league policy stipulates that no one but the team doctor knows if a player has an alcohol or substance abuse case pending and at what stage he is at in the NFL program. Cincinnati apparently checked with the Steelers before claiming him but didn't get a red flag.

        “I don't know what Pittsburgh knew,” Brown said. “This is why I argued when the policy went into effect that teams should be put on notice earlier. An employer should know about something like that so they can know what would be best for the player and the business.”

        Stephens said he'll use the time to work on getting his weight down.

        NO MORE TIME FOR SARGENT: Kevin Sargent could only match Anthony Munoz in decency and humility, which is why the Bengals felt badly about releasing the eight-year vet.

        Sargent, the college free agent from Eastern Washington who replaced Munoz's Hall-of-Fame shoes at left tackle in 1993, isn't sure he'll play again as he battles tingling in his hands. It stems from a nerve problem in his shoulder, which came out of nowhere during training camp's first practice and kept him out of contact until last week.

        “I can see why they had to do it,” Sargent said. “They have to know I can go on the field and I didn't give them an answer. I want the symptoms to go away before I think about anything else.”

        Luckily for the Bengals, Rod Jones chose to emerge as one of camp's bright spots at left tackle. But Jones has yet to prove he can do it over the long haul. And with Sargent gone, Mike Doughty out six weeks with a foot injury and Stephens suspended for the season's first month, starting right tackle Willie Anderson is the backup left tackle.

        “It's tough to lose a guy like Sarge. He knew the offense like (former center Darrick) Brilz,” Anderson said. “When (right tackle) Joe Walter (was cut), he stepped in and became our leader. We just pray he gets healthy and can play again.”

        Sargent, 30, had a star-crossed career, starting with a year-ending broken arm on the second play of the '93 season and continuing with a herniated neck disk that wiped out 25 games in '96 and '97. But he also feels fortunate.

        “I was lucky enough to hook on with the right team at the right time,” Sargent said. “It was a big accomplishment for me to play in the league and I'm hoping I can again.”

        HEATH MAKES IT: Maybe the happiest guy in the Bengals' locker room Sunday was first-year cornerback Rodney Heath, the Western Hills High product who walked in off the street, gave secondary coach Ray Horton one of his college tapes and made the team.

        “Credit Ray, because he was the only guy in the organization who thought he could play,” said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of college/pro personnel.

        Someone asked, “How's it feel to make the roster?

        “Just to hear you say it ...” Heath said.


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