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NFL MEETINGS

Bengals Check Out Palmer but Plan to Look at Others

March 26, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX — The Cincinnati Bengals say they want to take the mystery out of draft day, but that doesn't mean they plan to do the obvious and use the No. 1 pick on USC quarterback Carson Palmer.

Cincinnati Coach Marvin Lewis said Tuesday he wants to take another look at Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich and Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman, both of whom are scheduled to visit the Bengals. Lewis also might invite Michigan State receiver Charles Rogers despite spending a good deal of time with him at the NFL scouting combine last month.

Lewis and other coaches will attend the pro-day workout at Arizona State today featuring Sun Devil defensive end Terrell Suggs, a consensus top-five pick. It's unlikely the Bengals would draft him, though. They already have a pass rusher in Justin Smith, and Lewis admitted he has yet to watch any tape on Suggs.

Whichever player they choose, the Bengals want to sign him well before the two-day draft, which begins April 26.

"It won't be a surprise on draft day," Lewis said. "As quick as we can, we want to come to a consensus and decision. No question, we'd like to get our choice and pick decided and signed before the draft. Once the process moves along over the next two or three weeks, we'd like to get this thing resolved."

There have been suggestions the Bengals might try to trade down for more picks, although Lewis said the phone isn't ringing off the hook. If Cincinnati doesn't take him, Palmer could slip to the fifth or sixth pick belonging to Dallas and Arizona.

Detroit and Houston, which draft second and third, each selected quarterbacks in the first three picks last year; and Chicago, which recently signed Kordell Stewart, drafts fourth. Palmer remains the leading candidate to go to Cincinnati, and many people consider him the best player in the draft.

"My thing is, the kid seems to want to be there and I think he'll be a good pro. Not an immediate impact, but in a couple of years," former Bengal quarterback Boomer Esiason said.

Some feel Cincinnati would be making a mistake drafting a quarterback who would need two years to develop, because the team's best offensive players, such as running back Corey Dillon and receiver Peter Warrick, might not be around that long. The Bengals need a cornerback and a speed receiver, and there are very talented ones in Newman and Rogers.

The knocks on Palmer are that, while he is a good interview, he is not a particularly dynamic one, and he didn't fully emerge as a player until his senior season.

When it comes to using top picks on quarterbacks, the Bengals are understandably jittery. They wasted No. 1 picks on David Klingler in 1992 and Akili Smith in 1999. Both were busts. The Bengals haven't made the playoffs since 1991 and have had seven top-five selections in the last 12 drafts, including this one.

"When you're talking about drafting a quarterback, all bets are off," said Baltimore Coach Brian Billick, whose team drafts 10th and also is looking at Palmer, Leftwich and California's Kyle Boller. "When you're taking a guy in the first half of the first round, no matter how you feel about him, no matter how much due diligence you've done, it's a 50-50 proposition."

Lewis figures he can improve those odds by getting to know the players better. He and two assistants traveled to Southern California last week and met Friday with Palmer. The group dissected a couple of USC games with Palmer, put him through a throwing workout and had a lunch of cold tacos with him.

"We stayed in the film room too long," Lewis explained with a smile. "As we went through the tape it was fun.... He's about to get married, so I asked him, 'Are you ready for this? Have you spoken to your fiance? Is she ready?' "

She might be. And, at this point, that's may be more than can be said for the Bengals.

*

In hopes of reducing officiating mistakes, the NFL will no longer assign all-star crews of officials to playoff games and instead will use officials who have worked together before.

The proposal was developed by the officiating department and needs only the approval of Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Before now, the crews were composed of the highest-rated officials, regardless of whether they had worked together before.

*

The extension of the G-3 stadium loan program was approved by team owners Tuesday, not Monday, as first reported. The program, due to expire at the end of this month, was not extended for a specific time period but until certain financial parameters are hit. The program provides loans of up to $150 million to franchises building new stadiums.... There were no votes Tuesday on proposals being considered by the Competition Committee -- bids to expand the playoff field, give both teams at least one possession in overtime and change the instant-replay challenge system. Those votes are expected to take place today.

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