10-16-01, 7:45 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
With Rodney Heath scheduled to visit one of the nation's leading hamstring specialists, the Bengals are prepared to put him on season-ending injured reserve as soon as Tuesday while planning to work their second-year cornerbacks into the starting lineup.
Robert Bean and Mark Roman, 2000 draft picks who have struggled to gain consistent playing time, will now get their chance to see who starts opposite Artrell Hakwins at left cornerback when preparation for Sunday's game against the Bears begins Wednesday.
The Bengals spent Monday searching the NFL for a cornerback, opting to look for younger players on practice squads after deciding there aren't many free-agent veterans worth chasing. The club could also choose not to fill Heath's spot this week and wait until injured fullback Nick Williams becomes eligible to practice a week from Tuesday.
The Bengals did get some good news medically Monday after defensive tackle Tony Williams visited Dr. Pierce Scranton in Seattle. The orthopedic foot and ankle specialist said Williams doesn't need surgery on his mid-foot sprain and he's still on track to return after the Nov. 4 bye week.
The Bengals figure to sign another cornerback they will keep inactive for a week or two. The battle is between Bean and Roman, with nickel corner Tom Carter also getting a chance.
Yet the club clearly needs Roman and Bean, second- and fifth-round picks respectively, to make the plays they drafted them to make.
"Both are going to have an opportunity and we aren't going to decide anything until we see how they prepare during the week," said cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle. "There's a chance both will play some and the situation will play itself out."
Bean, who flashed in his four rookie starts, didn't have a good outing Sunday when he came off the bench after Heath completely tore his hamstring in the first quarter. Browns wide receiver Kevin Johnson beat him for a 30-yard touchdown catch and he gave up another big pass on
Cleveland's other scoring drive.
"He's got to be more patient," Coyle said. "The first one was a slant and go and he overreacted to the slant. On the other one on the backside, they were looking to throw the opposite way and he drifted a little bit and he was chasing. He didn't play as well as we know he can, but that's the first time this season he's had a considerable number of snaps."
Roman, who started the final two games of last season when Bean got hurt, did get some snaps Sunday in the pass package when Carter's sore knee flared and he got one of the Bengals' three sacks.
"Both guys need to get more consistent on the deep ball," Coyle said. "It's decision making and footwork and that's something that's going to improve with the more work they get."
Bean, hampered a bit last week in practice by a sore shoulder, has shown the ability to make something happen with three interceptions among his work in two preseasons and last year. Roman has improved enough after last year's three-week holdout that he's also been taking some snaps at safety.
But Heath's loss is a big one in a secondary shy on experience. They lose his 23 starts and his willingness to come up in run support. Which is how he got hurt Sunday when his left leg came out from under him as he went to cut down Cleveland running back James Jackson.
He's most likely out for the year, but the club has scheduled him for a visit Wednesday with Dr. Bill Garrett at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Garrett is the specialist to whom the Reds turned when Ken Griffey Jr.'s hamstring took longer than expected to heal. Whether Garrett recommends surgery or not, though, Heath is expected to be lost on injured reserve for the rest of the season.