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Thursday, July 13, 2006
Sources: Bengals' Thurman suspended for four games

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

The tumultuous offseason of the Cincinnati Bengals continued Thursday when two league sources and one source close to Odell Thurman confirmed that the starting middle linebacker has been suspended for four games for a violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Odell Thurman
Thurman

The suspension for the first month of the campaign, which had been rumored for much of the offseason, might explain in part the Bengals' decision to select former University of Virginia linebacker Ahmad Brooks in Thursday afternoon's supplemental draft.

Cincinnati chose Brooks, who was dismissed from the Cavaliers squad by coach Al Groh for repeat violations of unspecified team rules, in the third round of the supplemental lottery. The Bengals will forfeit their third-round choice in the 2007 draft.

League and team officials, citing the confidentiality guidelines of the substance-abuse program, declined to comment Thursday on Thurman's status.

There is at least circumstantial evidence, however, to suggest that Cincinnati officials and coaches knew that Thurman faced a suspension. At the team's minicamp in June, the middle linebacker was excused for what coach Marvin Lewis termed "personal reasons." And it certainly appears the choice of Brooks, whose off-field problems have been well documented, was likely made to help compensate for Thurman's loss.

One of the NFL's top defensive rookies in 2005, Thurman played in all 16 games and started 15 of them, all but the season finale, when he was held out of the starting lineup for a violation of team rules. Thurman led the Cincinnati defense in tackles (148) and forced fumbles (four), and also registered 1 1/2 sacks, five interceptions and nine passes defensed.

But the former University of Georgia star, a second-round choice in the 2005 draft, joined the Bengals after a sometimes-problematic college career. Thurman, 24, was twice sanctioned by Georgia coaches and at one point was suspended from the team. As the 48th overall selection in the draft, Thurman signed a five-year, $3.76 million contract that included a signing bonus of $1.7 million. Because of the suspension, Thurman will forfeit $82,352 of his scheduled 2006 base salary of $350,000.

How the Bengals realign their linebacker corps to compensate for Thurman's absence remains to be seen. The most facile move would be to elevate backup Landon Johnson, who has started at middle linebacker in the past, to the starting lineup. But at the team's June minicamp from which Thurman was excused, the Bengals used veteran weakside starter Brian Simmons to the middle and Johnson played the weakside. Of course Brooks, whom Cincinnati linebackers coach Ricky Hunley said earlier Thursday was capable of playing any of the three linebackers spots, also could factor into the mix.

The suspension of Thurman is just the latest blow to a franchise criticized in the offseason for making draft decisions on prospects with past character issues.

Second-year wide receiver Chris Henry, a third-round pick in 2005, has been arrested four times since December. Linebacker A.J. Nicholson, chosen in the fifth round of this year's draft, faces robbery charges in Florida. Both players could be subject to NFL sanctions under terms of the league's personal conduct policy.

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