Armour shining in plans

2-20-2001 BY GEOFF HOBSON

JoJuan Armour, searching for a position during two NFL seasons in Cincinnati, has to go to the other side of the ocean to find one.

A day after being assigned to Barcelona in NFL Europe for the upcoming spring season, a delighted Armour got the word Tuesday from Jack Bicknell, his new head coach.

Strong safety.

Plus, Bicknell plans to give Armour a chance to rush the passer while standing up on the edge of the line.

"I think I can do things that other safeties can't do," said Armour, a Miami of Ohio linebacker who did what no one else did in the MAC during his final two seasons when he was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year.

Bicknell's move also pleases the Bengals. They continue to be intrigued by Armour's versatility on passing downs after reviewing his work against Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb in last season's finale.

"In my opinion, this season in Europe will confirm or deny he's a safety," said Bengals defensive coordinator Mark Duffner.

"If he can play it, then that's where we'll put him," Duffner said. "If he's not that effective, then he'll go back to being an inside linebacker and those (pass) coverage skills will help him for that. The key thing for him is to get some snaps. Just to be able to play. It's hard to get a player who projects to a position to get him into the lineup during the season and that's what happened to him."

Between a groin injury, a foot problem, and eight straight weekly deactivations, Armour played just four games.

But he saved his best for last in Philadelphia. Alternating with defensive end Reinard Wilson, the 223-pound Armour "spied," McNabb in the Bengals' nickel package and helped hold the NFC's 15th-leading rusher to 20 yards on three carries.

While covering McNabb one-on-one, Armour batted one pass back into McNabb's hands and nearly had a sack on a scramble.

"He played with good poise, he didn't tense up, and he showed some burst," Duffner said. "He's definitely got some pass rushing ability. You can see it in practice. He's a good athlete who can make big plays. I'm anxious to see what he does over there because he's got some variables that can help us."

That would be speed, which Armour thinks gives him an edge as a pass rusher. Speed is the reason the Bengals kept him in the first place because of special teams. But after "showing some flashes," late n the season, the club thinks Armour can be an effective role player on passing downs.

Third down was a migraine headache all last year for the Bengals. They were one of seven teams who were 42 percent or worse on third-down conversions.

When teams

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** try to get a mismatch by sending a running back on a pass route against a linebacker, Armour can foil the strategy because he can cover a back as well as come up and make a hit in the running game.

"My main asset is my tenacity," Armour said. "You get to the last reel (of film) and I'm still playing. Then with my smarts, I know when to use my speed. I need to make a statement at safety over in Europe."

Armour thinks he can play both spots. He also thinks he's big enough to rush the passer from either position.

"I've held up in practice," Armour said. "Playing linebacker in practice has helped me with my hands. Plus, I've got speed."

But he didn't have much of a shot at either place this past season.

Cory Hall, Chris Carter and Tremain Mack controlled strong safety. And when Armour moved to linebacker in mid-season, he played behind defensive captain Takeo Spikes at right inside.

"Spikes is a war dog. He never comes off the field," Armour said.

But Armour sees himself more like middle linebacker Brian Simmons. A smaller linebacker who can drop into coverage or rush. Head coach Dick LeBeau told Armour after the season he was going to draw up some plays for him and Simmons where they could drop like safeties.

"Brian can do it all because he moves and runs like he's 200 pounds," Armour said.

The Bengals think Armour might be able to give them some of that on third down.

"He should be a force on every one of our special teams," said Bengals scout Duke Tobin. "I spend every day on the road looking for guys like that. Guys who are fast, who play aggressively, and are willing to hit. There aren't many on the road, I can tell you that."

Along with Armour, five other Bengals have been assigned in Europe. Guard Anthony Byrd, defensive tackle Keith Jackson and tight end/long snapper Kirk McMullen are ticketed to Amsterdam. Safety Gary Thompkins is headed to Frankfurt and fullback Ricky Brown goes to Berlin.

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