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DBs priority for Bengals in draft, free agency

By Mark Curnutte

The Cincinnati Enquirer

MOBILE, Ala. - For all of its perceived improvement in 2003, the Bengals' pass defense plummeted from 13th to No. 24 in the NFL rankings.

Upgrading the secondary is again a priority for the Bengals. The makeover is expected to come through the draft and free agency, and from within.

Purdue safety Stuart Schweigert, here picking off a pass in practice Tuesday, will be one of the defensive backs Bengals coaches will evaluate for their draft potential.

(AP photo)

In coaching the North team at the annual Senior Bowl, the Bengals' staff is getting a close look at the top-rated cornerback in the draft, Oklahoma's Derrick Strait.

There's a chance Strait could fall to the Bengals with the 17th pick. The list of 41 draft-eligible underclassmen came out Monday and featured the names of 10 projected top-20 picks, including the No. 1 safety prospect, Miami Hurricane Sean Taylor.

Strait is 5 feet 11, 190 pounds, and many NFL scouts and coaches watching him practice Tuesday were impressed by his ability to jam or hold up receivers at the line of scrimmage.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and secondary coach Kevin Coyle both declined to comment on Strait.

A 49ers scout spent five minutes interviewing Strait after practice. Jim Haslett, coach of the Saints, who pick No. 18, made a point to introduce himself to Strait.

"I want people to know I have a work ethic and compete in practice," Strait said.

Free agency could bring a big-play starting cornerback to the Bengals in March.

The A-list of unrestricted free agent cornerbacks includes Washington's Champ Bailey, Baltimore's Chris McAlister, Seattle's Shawn Springs and Philadelphia's Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent, although it's unlikely their teams will let Bailey or McAlister get away. Other upgrades could be available in San Francisco's Ahmed Plummer (a Wyoming native) and Indianapolis' David Macklin.

What will happen at cornerback and both safety positions remains a mystery for the Bengals. About the only sure bet is that Tory James, who wore down at the end of a 1,000-snap defensive effort in 2003, will start.

Starting free safety Mark Roman and strong safety Rogers Beckett are unrestricted free agents. Jeff Burris, who started eight games and played in five others despite suffering two concussions, plans to return, agent Peter Schaffer said. Artrell Hawkins, who played in 14 games with nine starts, is in the mix.

"It's going to be really competitive at the corner spots and at safety," Coyle said.

There's hope that Dennis Weathersby, a fourth-round draft pick in 2003, will be ready to compete for the starting job opposite James. Weathersby was shot through the back April 20, a week before the Bengals picked him, and he appeared in just four games on special teams.

At 6-1, 204 pounds, Weathersby has the speed and size to jam receivers, a tactic defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier likes to employ. But because of the shooting, Weathersby took longer than his draft classmates to get into football shape.

He and Coyle met in December.

"He's had the luxury of a red-shirt year in the NFL," Coyle said. "He has indicated to me that (playing on defense) is something he wants to do very badly. We're expecting Dennis to be more than a special teams player."

But special teams could be an opportunity for some lower-round defensive backs to enter the NFL. The most interesting prospects on the North team are Iowa strong safety Bob Sanders, Tusculum cornerback Ricardo Colclough, Purdue safety Stuart Schweigert and USC cornerback Will Poole. Bengals coaches were impressed with Michigan cornerback Jeremy LeSueur, who had an interception in practice.

At just 5-8 1/2, 205 pounds, Iowa's Sanders is a heavy hitter who's always around the ball.

"A lot of people really haven't respected my height, but I have a lot of heart," he said.

Noting the performances of Super Bowl-bound rookies Ricky Manning of Carolina (third round) and Asante Samuel of New England (fourth round), Coyle said secondary playmakers are not limited to the first round.

"Those were middle-round guys," Coyle said, "who made the transition."

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  • 5 weeks later...
DBs priority for Bengals in draft, free agency

By Mark Curnutte

The Cincinnati Enquirer

MOBILE, Ala. - For all of its perceived improvement in 2003, the Bengals' pass defense plummeted from 13th to No. 24 in the NFL rankings.

Like it's all their fault. This writer is a chump. Like nothing else factors into pass coverage? He needs to take his writing pen and shove it up his ass to find a clue. He plays the blame game well. He's unarmed in the solution game...idiot! Josh, you're right about these Enquirer turds. Lame sportswriters if I've ever seen any!! :angry:

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