Sunday, April 20, 1997
Bengals send a message

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Reinard Wilson is a high-motor, 60-minute effort guy. This is footballspeak for a fellow who tries hard.

In characterizing their No. 1 draft choice Saturday afternoon, the Cincinnati Bengals' coaching staff was remarkably consistent. Wilson was described as a ''relentless'' linebacker, an ''intense'' competitor, a player who performs at ''100 percent'' of his capacity.

''Work ethic,'' said linebackers coach Mark Duffner, ''is very much a part of who he's all about.''

There may be a message here.

Weary of wasting millions of dollars on high draft choices with low motivation, the Bengals have lately embraced value investing. They selected Reinard Wilson from Florida State because of his ability to rush the passer, his long arms and leverage, but also because he figures to do a day's work for a day's pay.

Then, as if to underscore their continuing exasperation with the effort expended by Ki-Jana Carter, the Bengals selected University of Washington running back Corey Dillon in the second round.

Translation: The Country Club is closed.

Zero tolerance

Bruce Coslet brought a tougher tone to the Bengals when he became their head coach last season, and Saturday's draft selections suggested that the organization has now instituted a zero tolerance policy for sloth.

Reinard Wilson was selected to fill a need and to set a tone. Corey Dillon was picked, despite what the coaches said on camera, to prod Carter and/or replace him.

Carter's off-season conditioning, or rather the lack of it, so alarmed his employers that they felt obliged to find a fallback back in the draft. Spending a second-round choice on another running back - in the face of pressing needs at other positions - served both as insurance for Carter and an indictment of him.

''Ki-Jana Carter can be as good as he wants to be,'' said Bengals General Manager Mike Brown. ''If he steps up and works as hard as he needs to, he can be a superb player in the NFL ... He has to learn that he has to work hard in the off-season; that he has a full-time, year-round job.''

Presumably, Carter has to learn to develop the kind of attitude for which Reinard Wilson is renowned.

''I watched every play that he (Wilson) played his senior year,'' Bengals defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. ''And every snap, regardless of the situation, regardless of the temperature outside, regardless of whether they were ahead by 30 or even as they got behind Florida, he was the same player every down.''

Work habits formed early

''That,'' Coslet said, ''is the type of guy we want to cultivate here.''

By all accounts, replicating Reinard Wilson will be as difficult as blocking him. He is a product of rural Florida, and his work habits were formed on the farm. From the time he was in kindergarten, while most of his schoolmates clung to air conditioning, Wilson cut tobacco in the harsh Florida sun for $30 a day. He learned to drive on a tractor, and he learned a lot about human drive, too.

''My father wanted me to learn what it was like to work hard,'' he said once. ''Football practice has never been too much for me. I'd rather practice all day than crop tobacco for an hour. I think it's easier to throw around an offensive tackle.''

Wilson set a school record with 35 1/2 quarterback sacks at Florida State, but his career may have been typified by one he didn't get. In one game against North Carolina State, he reached the passer just after the ball was released, and then raced 20 yards downfield in time to intercept the tipped pass.

''He doesn't know any boundaries,'' said Mickey Andrews, Florida State's defensive coordinator. ''We've not had a guy who plays any harder than Reinard Wilson does. If you could take a guy and say, 'Hey, the rest of you people, this is how we want you to play,' it would be Reinard.''

The Bengals hope he is contagious.