Saturday, June 5, 2004

Moving Hardy a good move for all


Club switches LB to natural position; DT Gardener signing now on hold

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kevin Hardy's return to his natural position of strong-side linebacker is a good start and should help the Bengals improve on their 28th-ranked defense in 2003.

Though Hardy led the Bengals with 124 tackles, he had to adjust to playing in the middle for the first time in his eight-year career.

The acquisition of true middle linebacker Nate Webster allows the Bengals to move Hardy back outside, to the position he played during his six-year run in Jacksonville.

"Honestly, each day, it becomes better and better," Hardy said. "The first field day, I was trying to get my stance right and my hands right. Even though we haven't had contact, I'm starting to get back into it. Playing inside helped me last year with the fits - I know where the (middle linebacker) is going to come from.

"Even the year (2002) I played at Dallas, the (strong-side linebacker) never got up on the line of scrimmage. It's coming back to me the way I played at Jacksonville."

Bengals defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier sees good results from a defense with Hardy on the outside.

"He's a big guy with long arms. He gives you a lot against the run game but also a lot in coverage and the pass rush," Frazier said. "He's a three-dimensional player. He's going to help us in all three phases, because he can match up against tight ends."

WAITING: Defensive tackle Daryl Gardener's trip to Cincinnati to have a physical and possibly sign an agreed-upon contract will wait until next week. The Bengals had no news conference planned for Friday to introduce Gardener, though it could have happened as early as Thursday.

Gardener, 31, remained at home in Florida on Friday, and the biggest question holding up a completed deal is the health of a potentially degenerative disc. Gardener was slowed by the herniated lumbar disc in 2000 and underwent back surgery again in 2001 to remove fragments and scar tissue.

Though the Bengals are not commenting on the record, the club and Gardener have agreed on a four-year contract worth up to $9.3 million.

Denver terminated Gardener's contract Wednesday.

THREE GONE: Alex Sulfsted's third stint with the Bengals ended Friday morning when the offensive lineman was one of three players released by the club.

Also released were rookie free agent linebacker Joe Siofele (Arizona) and rookie free agent tight end Michael Walker (Minnesota-Morris), both of whom signed with the Bengals May 9.

Sulfsted, 26, played at Mariemont High School and Miami University but never saw game action for the Bengals. He was a member of the Bengals' practice squad during the 2001 season and played in 14 games for the Washington Redskins in 2002.

FAREWELL: Quarterback Shane Matthews was among the dozens of unrestricted free agents who did not receive a tender offer from their original club by June 1. Matthews, who signed a one-year contract and was on the Bengals' roster in 2003, will remain a free agent after July 22 unless another team signs him.

E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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