Simmons, Kaesviharn come home; Bengals’ battered line gets tested

Published 11:24 pm Saturday, August 18, 2007

Same practice field, same players lined up in striped helmets on the other side of the ball. For two of the New Orleans Saints, it was a bit much.

Linebacker Brian Simmons and safety Kevin Kaesviharn had a few flashback moments this week when the Saints came to town to practice against the Cincinnati Bengals in preparation for their preseason game.

“It was a little weird,” Kaesviharn said. “But it was nice to see some old teammates, see how they’re doing.”

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Simmons and Kaesviharn are still trying to find a niche with their new team as they prepare to play the Bengals on Saturday night. Simmons, who was released, and Kaesviharn, allowed to leave as a free agent, are trying to fit in on a defense that strives to complement a high-powered offense.

Sort of like Cincinnati.

Simmons and Kaesviharn were part of a Bengals defense that ranked last in the league against the pass last season. Coach Marvin Lewis started another overhaul in the offseason, trying to fix the part of the team that keeps dragging it down.

Heading into their second preseason game, there is a new concern.

The Bengals won’t be fixated on how their defense stands up during the first quarter Saturday, when Drew Brees will be running one of the NFL’s most versatile offenses. They’re also going to be watching to see how their injury-depleted offense fares.

Cincinnati suffered a notable setback when rookie running back Kenny Irons tore a knee ligament in the preseason opener at Detroit last week, sidelining him for the season. He was placed on injured reserve Friday.

There was more dismaying news when Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson returned from a medical exam in Atlanta wearing a protective boot on his aching right foot. Anderson hasn’t practiced during training camp.

“I spent a week in Atlanta and they found out something else than what we thought,” said Anderson, who declined to go into more detail because of Lewis’ ban on players discussing injuries. “I’m in the healing process now. Hopefully, I’ll be ready to start the opener.”

Left tackle Levi Jones has been slowed by his comeback from knee surgery, setting up the possibility that the Bengals might have to open the season without their bookend tackles.

“I’m worried about not having Willie’s leadership,” quarterback Carson Palmer said, after seeing him wearing the boot. “He doesn’t get beat. He doesn’t lose.”

On defense, the Bengals will be curious to see how their revamped secondary holds up against New Orleans’ versatile attack.

“They’ve got more than Reggie Bush,” said rookie safety Chinedum Ndukwe, who has impressed so far in camp. “They’ve got lots of other guys who can make big plays, and a Pro Bowl quarterback. It’ll be a pretty good test.”

The Saints are a lot more settled, especially on offense, where the biggest uncertainty involves the No. 3 receiver spot. The defense is another matter.

At safety, Kaesviharn is competing for time with Josh Bullocks. The Saints signed Kaesviharn as an unrestricted free agent, giving him a four-year deal that was more than the Bengals were willing to offer.

He’s still trying to figure things out.

“You’ve got to learn a new defense,” Kaesviharn said. “You’ve got to learn new teammates, let them get to know you. Learn the city. So there’s a lot of things you’ve got to learn. I think things are going well.”

Simmons is competing for Mark Simoneau’s spot at linebacker. The Bengals released Simmons, who had spent all nine years of his career in Cincinnati, in a money-saving move last February.

No one enjoyed the Saints’ visit this week more than Simmons, who spent a lot of time catching up with friends.

“That’s the one thing you’re always going to keep, your relationship you have with your teammates,” Simmons said. “That’s something that’s always going to be there. Any time you get a chance to see them, you’re going to talk and giggle with them.”