Bengals intrigued by Brooks' versatility

The Cincinnati Bengals are already under fire for gambling on guys regarded as character risks. So, beyond the issue of why the Bengals would choose another player who has experienced myriad off-field problems, there is a more football-pertinent question about their selection of Ahmad Brooks
in Thursday's supplemental draft.

Where are the Bengals going to use Brooks, the former University of Virginia standout linebacker, chosen by Cincinnati in the third round on Thursday afternoon?

"We feel like he can play at any of the [linebacker] positions," said Cincinnati linebackers coach Ricky Hunley, who presided over Brooks' workout for NFL scouts on June 22. "He has that kind of talent."

There is no denying the talent of Brooks, who might have been a first-round selection had he completed his college career without incident and played up to his enormous physical potential. But the Bengals, who invested first- and second-round picks on linebackers in the 2005 NFL draft and have selected six linebackers in the four drafts since coach Marvin Lewis arrived in 2003, already seem fairly deep at the position. And that's taking into consideration the loss of Odell Thurman, who is facing a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

While conceding that coordinator Chuck Bresnahan is seeking more diversity in his front-end alignments and front-seven mixes, Bengals sources have convincingly dismissed offseason suggestions that Cincinnati might switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme. Many teams that closely assessed Brooks regarded him as best-suited to a 3-4 front.

In the Bengals' three-linebacker alignment, the starters were projected to be second-year veterans Thurman and David Pollack at the middle and strong-side spots, respectively, and underappreciated veteran Brian Simmons on the weak side. That plan clearly changes for at least the opening month of the season if Thurman is unavailable.

A second-round choice in 2005, Thurman started in 15 of his 16 games as a rookie and led all Cincinnati defenders with 148 tackles. Pollack, the team's first-round selection last year, missed considerable training camp time in a contract dispute, started in five of 14 games and had 35 tackles and 4½ sacks. His progress as a strong-side rusher is seen as necessary for the unit to improve in 2006. Simmons, an eight-year veteran, is a mainstay in the Cincinnati lineup, had 102 tackles in 2005 and has averaged 115.6 tackles in the seven seasons in which he was healthy.

Still, the depth chart also includes a pair of two-year veterans, Landon Johnson and Caleb Miller, who have logged plenty of playing time in their brief careers.

One issue to watch as the Bengals enter camp, and which may have entered into their thinking in forfeiting a third-round choice in next April's draft to snatch Brooks in Thursday's supplemental lottery: Thurman's impressive rookie numbers notwithstanding, some felt he was often out of place in 2005 and that he suffered excessive mental lapses.

Thurman was not present for Cincinnati's most recent minicamp; in those sessions, Simmons played middle linebacker, with Johnson moving into the lineup at the weak side.

Then again, there might be a much simpler reason for Cincinnati choosing Brooks -- the possibility that he was simply too good to pass on in the supplemental draft. Among his impressive skill set is the ability to rush the quarterback off the edge, as evidenced by 13 sacks and 31 pressures during his 2½ college seasons, and the Bengals need to improve in that area.

Cincinnati registered 28 sacks in 2005; only two defenses had fewer than that. No Bengals player had more than six sacks. The team leader, right end Justin Smith, is entering the final season of his contract and is eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring. The Bengals may feel that Brooks can play some at end and perhaps grow into the position.

Hunley said Thursday that he wants Brooks to report to camp at about 255-260 pounds. After ballooning to about 292 pounds earlier this spring, Brooks measured 6-foot-3 7/8 and weighed 260 pounds at his workout.

In his 31 appearances for the Cavaliers, all starts, Brooks totaled 234 tackles, two interceptions, 14 passes defensed and two forced fumbles. He started 25 games his first two seasons but missed the start of the '05 campaign after undergoing right knee surgery in the spring and played in just six games. He was dismissed from the squad by coach Al Groh after repeated violations of unspecified team rules.

He was arrested twice in 2003 in Prince William County, Va., and charged with speeding and also misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Brooks pleaded no contest to the charges and, as a part of his sentencing, was ordered to undergo drug screenings and evaluations. Because he successfully completed a diversion program, those charges were subsequently dismissed.

Still, his various off-field incidents are likely to subject the Bengals and their draft methods to further scrutiny. In what has already been a tumultuous offseason, second-year wide receiver Chris Henry, a third-round choice in the 2005 draft, was arrested four times in a six-month period. Linebacker A.J. Nicholson, a fifth-round choice in this year's draft, faces robbery charges in Florida.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.