Sunday, May 4, 2003

Bengals begin to take shape


Lewis: Competition determines starters

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The depth chart is a football staple that ranks starters and backups at each position. But in the midst of his second minicamp as Bengals coach, Marvin Lewis doesn't yet have one.

Lewis is not obligated to release a depth chart, and one of the reasons he hasn't - besides not wanting to tip his hand - might be the intensity of competition at several positions.

"I would hope every position would have competition," Lewis said. "We've got a great competition at corner. We've got a competition at the offensive line. We've got a competition at defensive line and wide receiver, and I think that's a good thing."

In less than four months, Lewis has begun to rebuild the roster with his type of players - fast, athletic, intelligent. And he's not bringing them in to sit on the bench.

Wide receiver

Lewis went after a speed wide receiver in the third round of the draft, Kelley Washington, who looks like the third man in the three-receiver set along with Chad Johnson and Peter Warrick.

Ron Dugans, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Danny Farmer are the other three receivers likely to make the roster.

"If it's a competition, I'm going to play. It's as simple as that," said Houshmandzadeh, a former seventh-round draft pick heading into his third season.

Offensive line

Lewis drafted two offensive linemen: a likely starter in left guard Eric Steinbach, and a seventh-rounder, Scott Kooistra, who has impressed Lewis at minicamp.

The staff already has shifted the three interior positions - moving right guard Mike Goff to center, left guard Matt O'Dwyer to right and inserting Steinbach in his most recent college position, left guard.

Former starter Rich Braham was signed as a backup at guard and center.

Willie Anderson and Levi Jones are locks at right and left tackles.

Defensive line

Lewis signed two probable defensive line starters in free agency - John Thornton and Carl Powell.

Powell is lining up at left end, opposite right end Justin Smith. Thornton is playing left tackle, next to right tackle Tony Williams.

Reinard Wilson, who had a team-high nine sacks in 2001, appears to be a reclamation project for Lewis and his staff. He could be the top reserve at both ends. Former starter Oliver Gibson, rehabbing a torn Achilles' tendon, and Glen Steele are the favorites to be in the rotation at tackle, although rookie Langston Moore could threaten for the fourth spot.

"There will always be competition, somebody will always be pushing you for your job," said Williams, a former Minnesota Viking entering his third season with the Bengals. "There is competition on every team."

The Bengals were ranked 22nd against the run last season.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said May is too early to start setting starting lineups and a depth chart, but the process has begun.

"You've got to get your best 11, and once you get them, you have to ask if you can win a championship with this guy at this position," Frazier said. "Once you get comfortable, then you have to start thinking about your second group. Are they good enough, if somebody goes down?"

Cornerback

Lewis signed one free agent cornerback (Tory James) and drafted another one (Dennis Weathersby).

The Bengals tied for the NFL-low with nine interceptions.

Hawkins looks to be starting opposite James, moving Jeff Burris - a starter for much of last season - to nickelback. Weathersby, expected to fully recover from a gunshot wound sustained two weeks ago, is similar to James. Coaches say Weathersby is good at jamming receivers at the line.

Said Lewis, "You don't get better as an NFL football team unless you provide and get competition set up as much as you can."

Depth chart

Coach Marvin Lewis wants competition for playing time and roster spots across the board. Four positions appear to be most contested - defensive line, cornerback, wide receiver and offensive line. The unofficial depth chart:

DEFENSIVE LINE

LE: Carl Powell, Reinard Wilson

LT: John Thornton, #Oliver Gibson, Langston Moore

RT: Tony Williams, Glen Steele

RE: Justin Smith, Wilson

CORNERBACK

LC: Tory James, Jeff Burris

RC: Artrell Hawkins, #Dennis Weathersby

WIDE RECEIVER

Flanker: Chad Johnson, T.J Houshmandzadeh

Slot: Peter Warrick, Ron Dugans

Split end: Kelley Washington, Danny Farmer

OFFENSIVE LINE

LT: Levi Jones, Reggie Coleman

LG: Eric Steinbach, Rich Braham, Scott Rehberg

C: Mike Goff, Braham, Brock Gutierrez

RG: Matt O'Dwyer, Braham, Thatcher Szalay

RT: Willie Anderson, Scott Kooistra

#-Injured

---

E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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