Sunday, February 15, 2004

Bengals seeking skill off field, too


Lewis looking for good communicators

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

For Marvin Lewis, the greatest value of the annual NFL scouting combine is not the results of the physical tests and drills performed by draft-eligible college players.

The most important exercise, Lewis said on the eve of the combine, which will begin Wednesday in Indianapolis, is both simpler and more complex.

"Can they communicate?" the Bengals coach said. "Can they talk about who they are and what they do?"

The fingerprints of what Lewis did last year at the combine were all over Cincinnati's draft in April.

"I, personally, spent considerable time at the combine with the first six guys we drafted," Lewis said. "You feel a lot better when you take a name to the podium (at the draft in New York) after you've spent time talking to them."

The Bengals' first two selections of 2003 - quarterback Carson Palmer and guard Eric Steinbach - were slam-dunk picks as widely known commodities.

Lesser known were the team's next four picks: wide receiver Kelley Washington, cornerback Dennis Weathersby, fullback Jeremi Johnson and linebacker Khalid Abdullah. Washington and Johnson were regulars and part-time starters on offense; Abdullah was a special teams stalwart.

As Lewis, his staff and Bengals scouts and front-office personnel head into the second combine of the Lewis era, they have a sizeable jump on 30 other teams. The staffs of the San Diego Chargers and Bengals coached in the Senior Bowl all-star game last month in Mobile, Ala.

"We spent time with those guys (both their North and the Chargers' South teams) in Mobile," Lewis said. "We don't need to spend as much time with them at the combine."

The Bengals will be able to invest time interviewing players who weren't at Mobile.

Lewis has earned national praise for aggressively pursuing a Senior Bowl coaching assignment. Despite an increase in the size of their undermanned scouting department, the Bengals are among the teams with the fewest full-time scouts in the NFL. Coaches gleaned important personal information from players at the Senior Bowl - such as possible graduation dates, e-mail addresses, girlfriends' phone numbers and whether they had been arrested.

They won't have to duplicate their efforts on some 90-plus Senior Bowl players expected at Indianapolis. Those relationships can grow into a second stage.

The early draft forecasts have the Bengals looking at defensive players.

Whereas their first three picks of 2003 - Palmer, Steinbach and Washington - went to the offense, the first three rounds in 2004 could be dedicated to bolstering a defense ranked 28th in the NFL last season.

Predictions range from cornerbacks Will Poole of Southern California and Derrick Strait of Oklahoma to linebackers and defensive tackles.

Ricardo Colclough, a Division II standout from Tusculum College, is another cornerback the Bengals coached and liked at the Senior Bowl.

Defensive tackles Randy Starks of Maryland and Darnell Dockett of Florida State are seen as possible first-day picks. So are linebackers D.J. Williams of Miami (Fla.) and Teddy Lehman of Oklahoma.

The Bengals have the 17th, 49th and 80th overall picks on Day 1 - April 24.

The basics

When: Wednesday through Tuesday.

Where: RCA Dome, Indianapolis.

Who: About 300 draft-eligible college players will attend, with many planning to participate in a variety of drills that include the 40-yard dash, 225-pound bench press, vertical leap and broad jump. Height, weight, arm length and hand span will be measured.

Say "ah": All 32 NFL teams are expected to have coaches, front-office personnel, scouts and medical staffs in attendance. Medical staffs will conduct physical exams of players. Coaches and scouts will conduct one-on-one interviews with players.

Who's going?

Area college players among the draft-eligible athletes expected at the NFL scouting combine, which will begin Wednesday in Indianapolis:

UC - None.

UK - WR Derek Abney, OL Antonio Hall, QB Jared Lorenzen (Highlands).

Miami - OL Jacob Bell, QB Ben Roethlisberger.

Ohio State - DB Will Allen, DT Tim Anderson, WR Drew Carter, OL Adrien Clarke, DB Chris Gamble, TE Ben Hartsock, WR Michael Jenkins, QB Craig Krenzel, OL Shane Olivea, P B.J. Sander (Roger Bacon), DT Darrion Scott, DE Will Smith, OL Alex Stepanovich. Unconfirmed: OL Bryce Bishop, RB Maurice Clarett.

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E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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