Bengals, Thurman await word on linebacker's reinstatement

Middle linebacker Odell Thurman has served his time, and now he hopes to hear soon if it is time to resume serving the Cincinnati Bengals again as a big-time defender, rather than just putting in time as a reluctant spectator.

Odell Thurman


Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of Thurman's banishment from the league by then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue for repeat violations of the NFL substance abuse policy. Having officially applied for reinstatement, he now awaits a determination on his future.

First-year commissioner Roger Goodell could rule Wednesday on Thurman's case, but even Bengals officials and people close to the young linebacker don't think a resolution is likely on the first day he is eligible to return from a one-year suspension. Still, they are guardedly confident that Thurman has complied with the conditions of his suspension and that he will return soon in an attempt to jump-start his once-promising career.

"All indications are that, to this point, Odell has not had any violations of the drug program, and we're hopeful that his application will be accepted," advisor Safarrah Lawson said.

Thurman filed his reinstatement paperwork nearly a month ago so that it would be in the NFL offices well in advance of his anniversary date. He has not met with Goodell, but a face-to-face session isn't necessarily required for the commissioner to act on Thurman's request to be permitted to return.

The Bengals' starter in 2005, when he led the team in tackles as a rookie, Thurman was initially suspended for four games last July when he missed a scheduled drug screening. The sanction was subsequently increased to a year after Thurman, a second-round selection in the 2005 draft, was arrested on DUI charges Sept. 25.

Earlier this spring, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis indicated that Thurman would be welcomed back to the team and would be able compete for a roster spot in training camp if the league reinstated him.

"I have been in contact with Odell and he has an opportunity to be reinstated," Lewis told a radio station in mid-May. "He will have had to ... [follow] the very strict NFL guidelines to get to that point and then, obviously, if reinstated, to go forward. And if that happens, he'll have an opportunity [to return]."

Lewis later backed away from that sentiment a bit and has not discussed Thurman's status in detail since then.

Last month, two men in Thurman's hometown of Monticello, Ga., filed complaints against Thurman, accusing him of assaulting them at a party. On the day the complaints were to be heard by a local magistrate, they were withdrawn. It is not known how that incident might affect a determination of Thurman's status.

There has been speculation that the Bengals, in part because of having experienced so many off-field issues over the past year, might cut ties to Thurman -- even if he is reinstated. But if Goodell rules that Thurman can come back, it appears that Cincinnati officials are inclined, too, to give him another chance.

Should his application for reinstatement be approved, Thurman will not return as the starter and he might not even play middle linebacker in his reincarnation. Second-year veteran Ahmad Brooks, a third-round choice in last summer's supplemental draft who started five games in 2006, is currently projected as No. 1 on the depth chart at middle linebacker. His presence could force Thurman to move to weakside linebacker to try to win and job and secure playing time.

Despite missing much of his rookie training camp because of a protracted contract impasse, the 24-year-old Thurman appeared in 15 games in 2005, all as a starter, and registered 148 tackles, one sack, five interceptions, nine passes defensed and four forced fumbles. The former University of Georgia star was a candidate for defensive rookie of the year honors.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.