Thursday, February 22, 2001

Bengals' talent search begins

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If the NFL draft, scheduled for April 21-22, is the main course, this weekend's scouting combine in Indianapolis is an appetizer.

        And for the Cincinnati Bengals, the NFL team most hungry for victories the past 10 seasons, this year's draft could help them get their fill at several positions. What the Class of 2001 lacks in star power it makes up for in depth.

        Football players from the University of Cincinnati, Miami University and the University of Kentucky who will be participating in the annual NFL scouting combine this weekend at Indianapolis:
  • 1. Deontey Kenner, QB
  • 2. Mario Monds, DT
  • 1. Sly Johnson, WR
  • 2. Alex Sulfsted, OT (Loveland High)
  • 1. Derek Homer, RB
  • 2. Kenneth Grant, CB
  • 3. Eric Kelly, CB
  • 4. Quentin McCord, WR
  • 5. Marlon McCree, SS
  • 6. Omar Smith, G
        Bengals coaches, scouts and executives will leave today for the annual combine, where they will join in the poking, prodding and processing of potential draft choices. The combine runs through Monday.

        “We have so many needs,” said Jim Lippincott, Bengals director of pro/college scouting. “With the exception of linebacker, I can see us being interested in anybody and any other position, whether it's the first round or the seventh round.”

        The Bengals, thanks to their second consecutive 4-12 season, have the fourth overall pick for the second year in a row. San Diego, Arizona and Cleveland have the first three positions.

        The combine is an opportunity to take another look — often a very close look — at potential draft picks.

        “The most important thing, by far, is the medical exam,” Lippincott said.

        The Bengals' medical staff, like those from the other 30 NFL teams, will conduct physicals of many players.

        Players also will be interviewed by each team and twice by the league. One interview will be taped and distributed to each team.

        The more than 300 participating players will run at the RCA Dome and lift weights. They also will be weighed and measured.

        “The height-and-weight station is really a neat thing,” Lippincott said. “They come into a room, and they're stripped down to their shorts.

        “They're standing there in all their glory, so you can see a surgery scar on the shoulder. And sometimes the tattoos are a reflection of what kind of people they are. For example, there's a kid who's a senior this year who has "f--- the world' written on his chest. That's a little different than having "mother' tattooed on your chest.”

        Bengals president Mike Brown will lead the team's combine contingent.

        “There are a lot of good prospects every year,” he said. “But there are guys who will surprise you and grow on you.”

        Of the team's many weak spots, the defensive and offensive lines and cornerback are the weakest. Bengals coaches and scouts plan on making sure they interview dozens of potential draft picks and undrafted free agents.

        This year's draft is exceptionally deep with defensive tackles, and as many as six could go in the first round, but the Bengals could use a speed rusher from the end. California's Andre Carter, Florida State's Jamal Reynolds and Missouri's Justin Smith are ranked as the top three ends.

        A pair of Georgia teammates, Richard Seymour and Marcus Stroud, often are listed as two of the draft's top five tackles.

        “If they want to help themselves at end, Smith is very fast,” said draft expert Jerry Jones, a former Mariemont pharmacist and publisher of the annual “Drugstore List” of NFL prospects. “He fits very well with what they're looking for.”

        If the Bengals draft a defensive tackle, they could move veteran John Copeland back to to end and hope veteran Tom Barndt, slowed last season by a chest injury, returns to form in the middle.

        The Bengals' 26 sacks last season were the second fewest in the NFL.

        The top offensive tackles are Texas's Leonard Davis, Florida's Kenyatta Walker and Michigan's Maurice Williams and Jeff Backus.

        At cornerback, there are no players worthy of the No.4 pick, say draft experts, although Cincinnati could take a corner in the second or third round. Wisconsin's Jamar Fletcher and Fred Smoot, a teammate of the Bengals' Robert Bean at Mississippi State, are two of the top corners in the draft.

        At quarterback, where 1999's No.3 overall pick, Akili Smith, lost his job after 10 games, the Bengals have promised to bring in a veteran free agent and possibly a draft choice. Michael Vick and Drew Brees are clearly the Nos.1 and 2 QBs in the draft, and if 28-year-old Chris Weinke of Florida State is available in Round 3, he could make an interesting Bengal. He threw to Bengals second-year receivers Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans in college.

        “They've really gotten burned by immaturity in the past couple of years and probably don't want to get burned again,” Jones said. “Weinke might click right away.”

        And then there's the $60 million question — running back. With Corey Dillon headed for the free-agent market and Brown backpedaling slightly on his vow to re-sign Dillon, might the Bengals let Dillon go and use some of that money to draft and sign Deuce McAllister? The Mississippi RB is everybody's top pick at that position.

        Said Lippincott: “There's not any one person. It's different than the last three, four or five years, when we had "a guy' that really had on the top of our wish list, I don't think that's going to happen that way this year.”

        Composite lists of top college players available in April's draft at positions that Bengals officials consider the team's weakest:

Def. Ends School Ht./Wt. 40-yd.
1. Andre Carter California 6-3/260 4.80
2. Jamal Reynolds Florida St. 6-2/254 4.50
3. Justin Smith Missouri 6-5/265 4.65
4. Cedric Scott Southern Miss 6-5/274 4.75
5. Karon Riley Minnesota 6-2/250 4.50
Def. Tackles School Ht./Wt. 40-yd.
1. Richard Seymour Georgia 6-5/295 4.90
2. Gerald Warren Florida 6-3/305 5.07
3. Damione Lewis Miami (Fla.) 6-2/285 4.90
4. Shaun Rogers Texas 6-4/331 5.25
5. Marcus Stroud Georgia 6-5/305 5.00
Off. Tackles School Ht./Wt. 40-yd.
1. Leonard Davis Texas 6-5/365 5.2
2. Kenyatta Walker Florida 6-5/298 5.05
3. Maurice Williams Michigan 6-5/298 5.3
4. Jeff Backus Michigan 6-5/303 5.3
5. Kareem McKenzie Penn State 6-6/320 5.2
*Cornerbacks School Ht./Wt. 40-yd.
1. Jamar Fletcher Wisconsin 5-10/170 4.45
2. Gary Baxter Baylor 6-1/198 4.50
3. Fred Smoot Mississippi St. 5-11/175 4.44
4. Nate Clements Ohio St. 6-0/190 4.40
5. Will Allen Syracuse 5-10/188 4.28
Quarterbacks School Ht./Wt. 40-yd.
1. Michael Vick Virginia Tech 6-1/212 4.28
2. Drew Brees Purdue 6-1/205 4.85
3. Chris Weinke Florida St. 6-4/238 5.2
4. Sage Rosenfels Iowa State 6-4/217 4.86
5. Josh Heupel Oklahoma 6-1/215 5.00
        Source: composite rankings of 19 NFL draft forecasts.
        * ranking

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