Bengals say character counts


There are very few guys in this draft who are all-around great players," NFLBengals say character counts
Team will look for defensive standouts, good guys at scouting combine

Preparation for the NFL draft hits high gear this week when the annual scouting combine starts in Indianapolis. The draft is April 28 and 29.

And despite pressing needs on defense, compared to few on offense, the Bengals will continue to look to add the best player available - regardless of position, coach Marvin Lewis told The Enquirer.

Player interviews and workouts - speed, agility and strength - will start Thursday at the Indiana Convention Center and RCA Dome.

"Certain positions, where we have established veteran players at a (high) level of compensation, we don't look to be drafting there," said Lewis.

Lewis mentioned quarterback and wide receiver as two of those positions.

"You have to be careful and conscious of that - not getting skewed (too much salary-cap space on one side of the ball), not being too one-sided," he said.

The production and money are both weighted to the offense. The need is on defense, where the Bengals were inconsistent against the run and ranked 31st against the pass in 2006.

The Bengals, stung by nine player arrests in the past 14 months, also will make player character a higher priority in 2007, club president Mike Brown told The Enquirer in an exclusive interview.

Still, when asked about Brown's comments regarding the importance of character, Lewis said: "It's always been. You can't control what happens."

The Bengals will put great effort into finding players who can contribute immediately.

One such player was cornerback Johnathan Joseph, their first-round pick in 2006.

Joseph is one of the six of 16 draft picks from 2005 and 2006 to be arrested since Jan. 1, 2006. He was arrested for marijuana possession in January.

"We've had a bad run where these guys have tripped us up and given us a bad name," Lewis said.

And affected the team on the field: big-play linebacker Odell Thurman, the team's second-round pick in 2005 and its leading tackler that season, is serving a one-year suspension for a third violation of the league substance abuse policy.

Wideout Chris Henry, arrested four times in three states since December 2005, already served a two-game league suspension during the 2006 season and could face more time off courtesy of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

The hope inside the Bengals organization is that one-time and multiple offenders alike will learn their lessons.

Lewis has talked to his players.

To Joseph, a surprise first-time offender, Lewis said: "You're risking your life. You need to understand it. Hopefully, you getting pulled over will save your life in the long run. It's not a good thing. You're associating yourself with bad people."

So it remains to be seen whether the Bengals will pass on players with character issues in their background or favor players with reputations for being solid citizens. analyst Rob Rang thinks there are talented players in the draft who are appealing because they achieve high marks for behavior off the field.

One is Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, who is only 19 years old but learning fast. Rang has the Bengals picking Okoye in the first round. Okoye has had an impressive offseason.

At 312 pounds, the Nigerian is best against the run and known for his ability to make quick reads and stay on his feet.

"And his character ranking is off the charts," Rang said.

If the Bengals go for an inside linebacker, Mississippi's Patrick Willie is the best available and should still be on the board at No. 18 in the first round.

One of the best positions in the draft is defensive end, but the Bengals' offseason investments of a potential $33 million over six years in Robert Geathers and $8.6 million in using the franchise tag on Justin Smith make the selection of a defensive end unlikely.

More likely would be help at linebacker and in the secondary, where starting cornerback Tory James is not expected back - his contract expires March 2 - and the performance of Deltha O'Neal is all or nothing.

The key will be finding the right player to fit the Bengals' system.

"There are very few guys in this draft who are all-around great players," expert Rang said. "But there are guys who are very good at what they do. It is a year of specialty players."

Besides newcomers, the Bengals also should be able to count on increased contributions from recent draft picks.

The Bengals will draft 18th in the first round. They have no third-round pick after selecting former Virginia linebacker Ahmad Brooks in the supplemental draft in July.

Brooks is among the players being counted on to produce more as they gain experience.

For example, what will the Bengals get from third-round 2006 defensive end Frostee Rucker, who missed all of his rookie season on the injured reserve list? What about seventh-round wide receiver Bennie Brazell, who dazzled early in training camp before suffering a hamstring injury? What about fifth-round linebacker A.J. Nicholson, who was charged with theft in May 2006, just a month after the draft, and missed most of his rookie season?

The Bengals are counting on more on-field contributions and less off-field distractions from recent picks.

"You build your team through the draft," Lewis said.

I know that this subject has been talked to death, but I thought some might enjoy this article that was in yesterday's paper. Note Lewis's comments on Brown's remarks.