4-24-04, 7:10 p.m.
Updated: 4-24-04, 9:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals may have not coached Florida cornerback Keiwan Ratliff or Maryland safety Madieu Williams in last January's Senior Bowl. But the fact they coached against them while leading the North might have been just as important in their second-round selections that reinvigorated the Bengals' secondary.
Ratliff, who went No. 49, and Williams, who went at No. 56 in the choice they got from the Patriots in the Corey Dillon trade, immediately impressed the coaches in Mobile, Ala., and they kept doing it on film.
After huddling with their South counterparts from the Chargers, it was clear the 5-10, 192-pound Ratliff was the best corner among a group that included the North's own Will Poole, Ricardo Colclough, and Oklahoma's Derrick Strait. With the Bengals seeking a
third cornerback because Dennis Weathersby's playing future is in doubt and secondary coach Kevin Coyle comparing his nickel style to Tampa Bay's Rhonde Barber, Ratliff looks to be a guy that can come in and play right now in that spot after leading the SEC with nine interceptions.
And with Williams' track record as a cornerback before he switched to safety, the Bengals also think they got another playmaker in the passing game.
"He's one of the best in-space free safeties in the draft," Coyle said. "He's got corner hips, corner feet, he's got corner ability. We felt he's a guy that could really match up well on slot receivers, and the better receiving tight ends in this division, that's a big reason we really drafted him. He's got versatility, and he's not afraid to hit."
The Browns' selection of Miami of Florida's Kellen Winslow jacked those number of tight ends in the division to go along with Baltimore's Todd Heap, and is a reason Williams could come in and start.
These guys come to Cincinnati from the opposite ends of the spectrum. Ratlliff grew up in the Columbus area and went to Whitehall-Yearling High School. Williams came to this country from Africa when he was nine, and walked on at Maryland.
"These are the kind of guys we want," Coyle said. "Smart, aware, and productive against excellent competition."