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Well written article from the Post

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Almost by definition, the sports fan is hopelessly addicted to good news, or at least the daily prospect of it. That, for example, is how baseball keeps us in its claws for most of the calendar, and especially this part. Unless, of course, the local team acquits itself in the foul fashion that the Reds insist upon.

And so, seven weeks into the alleged pennant race, we're thankful that the NFL now permits mini-camps in May. We are thereby able, even as the grass gets away from us, to discuss the Bengals' linebackers.

"When I first got here," said the veteran among them, Brian Simmons, class of '98, "we didn't even have this. We had a weekend mini-camp and that was it; see you in Georgetown."

Training camp is still two months away, and yet, as the Indians arrive in town, our attention wanders, instead, to the Cincinnati-Cleveland matchup that opens the football season on the second Sunday of September. It's a great time to be the Bengals.

Rarely has a .500 team stood pat to such avid anticipation. The offense presumes to start the same 11 as last year, although two former first-round draft choices - Peter Warrick and Chris Perry - ought to be much more available this time. Another - Carson Palmer - ought to be much more poised and prominent in his second season of starting. Among other advantages, he will have more people to throw to after Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, including Warrick and a couple of intriguing rookies. For a deeper set of receivers, check with Sony.

Meanwhile, the linebackers are now approximating the same look of largesse. Much will depend on them. To make the playoffs - it's OK to talk about that now - the Bengals will have to stand-in against the run for a change. For that task, Marvin Lewis believes fervently in linebackers. The ones he had in Baltimore - Ray Lewis, Jamie Sharper and Peter Boulware - demonstrated to him the wisdom of doing so.

In his three years here, Lewis has signed two starting-quality, free-agent linebackers - Kevin Hardy was cut and Nate Webster is recovering slowly from two knee surgeries - and drafted five ball-seeking collegians. The sum of the latter will most likely define the Cincinnati defense for the next several seasons.

The movement started in 2003 with Khalid Abdullah, whose injuries have postponed the daunting leap from Mars Hill. Last year brought Caleb Miller and Landon Johnson - the most pleasant surprise of the season - in the third round. April added David Pollack in the first round and his Georgia teammate, Odell Thurman, in the second.

The stocking-up reminds Simmons of his first year, when he and Spikes, both taken by the 17th pick, were joined by third-rounder Steve Foley and undrafted Adrian Ross. They were a strong group on a weak team.

"In the past," Simmons observed, "I don't know if I felt like the organizations had - I don't want to say a goal, but I don't think we had a game plan on how to get to it. And now I feel like we've definitely laid out where we want to go and how to get there."

The plan cuts a wide swath through the young linebackers, who answer with an apparent breadth of talent. Johnson rose far above his rating last year. Miller earned some early starts. Pollack is being weaned from defensive end in the interest of wreaking havoc. Thurman comes equipped with a middle linebacker's mentality and muscle.

In the first of four voluntary camps, Thurman - with Johnson and Webster rehabilitating - was already calling signals. "I was on top of my game," he asserted, lying on his back in the middle of the locker room and smiling uncontrollably.

Thurman's comfort level was abetted by the presence of his Georgia friend alongside. Next week, though, he'll have to get along without the familiar face. Pollack will be on his honeymoon.

True to form, the specter of Saturday's wedding didn't compromise the groom's Tuesday through Thursday. "I'm a one-day kind of guy," said the all-American, whose objective is always to be better by the end of it.

The Bengals', meanwhile, is to be better for having drafted him and Thurman and the two guys last year. It's a plan, and enough of a legitimate prospect to get the Cincinnati sports fan through another difficult day in May.

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