Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Jones cautioned not to hold out

Past Bengals picks relay experiences

By Mark Curnutte mcurnutte@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Levi Jones, the Bengals' first-round draft choice, already has impressed coaches and club executives with his work ethic and study habits.

        He spent last week in Cincinnati studying the moves and tendencies of some of the defensive ends he'll play against this season.

        But there's another role he seems prepared to handle — the unpleasant one of rookie contract holdout.

        There's still plenty of time for the Bengals and Jones' agent, Ken Zuckerman, to reach a deal that would allow Jones to report July25 for the start of training camp. And, to date, only two of 32 first-round picks have signed — Houston Texans quarterback Da vid Carr and New York Jets defensive end Bryan Thomas.

        “I'm hoping it will get done,” Jones, a left tackle and the 10th overall pick, said Monday from his Arizona home. “I'm trying not to worry about it.”

        But the Bengals' recent track record of signing their first-round picks in time for the start of camp is poor. Six of the past seven first-rounders missed at least one practice because of a contract dispute with the club.

        Linebacker Reinard Wilson missed only one practice in 1997. Linebackers Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons each missed two practices in 1998 before signing.

        But others were out for significant amounts of time that affected their performances as rookies. Offensive tackle Willie Anderson missed three weeks in 1996, and he sprained a knee in his first preseason game. Quarterback Akili Smith missed four weeks in 1999 before signing, and defensive end Justin Smith missed all of training camp a year ago before signing the day before the first game.

        Only wide receiver Peter Warrick in 2000 signed early enough to report on time.

        Neither Zuckerman nor Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn, who is negotiating for the club, returned phone messages left Monday. Jones talked to Zuckerman on Sunday, “but it wasn't to get an update,” Jones said.

        Three of the Bengals' six draft picks — Jones, second-round safety Lamont Thompson and fourth-round kicker Travis Dorsch — remain unsigned.

        Akili Smith, who received a $10.8 million signing bonus from the Bengals, has one piece of advice for Jones.

        “I would tell Levi to tell his agent to get the deal done,” Smith said from his San Diego home. “The 27 days I missed was one of the biggest mistakes of my career.”

        Injuries ended both Smith's rookie year and third season, and he lost the starting job after 10 games in his second season.

        “I ended up getting the money, and you only get one signing bonus coming out of college, but I lost the (practice) reps and the time,” Smith said. “I'm not taking sides on this, but this trend of holding out with the Bengals has to end. Let's get our draft picks in on time and let them play. It doesn't do them or the team any good.”

        Anderson, who, like Jones, is an offensive lineman, said he worried most about what his teammates and fans thought of him during his holdout. Anderson was the first offensive tackle taken by the Bengals in the first round since Anthony Munoz in 1980.

        “I didn't want my teammates to think I had a big head,” said Anderson, who signed and reported to Wilmington College for training camp.

        Jones' locker is beside Anderson's in the Paul Brown Stadium locker room. The Bengals want Anderson to pass on his wisdom to Jones. Here's some more.

        “Guys don't realize they're the boss,” Anderson said. “Don't let your agent fight with the Bengals in the papers. When you do sign, it's over for the agent, but you have to face the management and coaches every day. But, it's like I said last year, you can't get mad at Justin. It's not personal. It's business.”

        Justin Smith missed the Sept.9 season opener because he had signed just the day before. And he didn't start for another month. Smith still had an outstanding rookie season, registering 8.5 sacks and 60 solo tackles, third on the team.

        “All you can do is control what you can control,” he said of being a holdout last summer. “You come in in the best shape possible and stay on top of your plays. It's up to you to be ready to play when you get in.”

        Jones appears to understand that. He didn't leave Cincinnati until Saturday morning, performing conditioning tests in addition to his film study.

        “I'll be ready to play,” he said Monday. “In fact, I'm going to work out right now.”


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