Bengals know corner market

4-21-04, 8:15 a.m.


The one thing the Dennis Weathersby situation has proven to people in and out of Paul Brown Stadium is that every day is precious and, in the end, football is just a game and a job. Head coach Marvin Lewis indicated early this week that while there is hope, we are in a long haul that is going to take time and patience.

It certainly can't be measured in terms of a football calendar and the Bengals haven't reacted in football terms even though it appears his playing future is in doubt. When it comes to cornerbacks in this weekend's NFL Draft, the Bengals appear to be going through the same process and would have been mulling taking a cornerback in the first round no matter what transpired April 12.

The two questions surrounding Ohio State's Chris Gamble at No. 24 are "Will he be there?" and "Will They Gamble on Gamble?" even though he has played the position for just a year and a half. One thing is for sure. If they don't, the Senior Bowl provided the Bengals' coaches a chance to study closely the bulk of corners available in rounds two to five.

For a week back in January in Mobile, Ala., the Bengals coached a North contingent that included Tusculum's Ricardo Colclough, Michigan's Jeremy LeSueur, Oklahoma's Derrick Strait, Montana State's Joey Thomas, Penn State's Rich Gardner. They also briefly saw USC's Will Poole, until he was sent home after the first practice with a stretched Achilles.

It's no guarantee the Bengals like any of them well enough to draft, and if they told you, they'd have to kill you. But defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier admits they know so much more about them.

For instance, a guy like Colclough showed up a month after the game at the NFL scouting combine with a new backpedal technique that Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle showed him.

"There has been a lot of reflection and looking back at that week," Frazier said. "When we talk about those guys, a lot of it is about how they responded to teaching and how they grasped things in meetings. A big thing, too, is what they did in drills, and what things they were able to handle day after day. You can't do that with the other guys because you simply don't have that much time with them. It's a possibility you could take a guy because you know them like that, but I think it's just part of the process."

The Bengals figure to be looking for a third cornerback behind starters Tory James and Deltha O'Neal. Jerry Jones, the former Cincinnati pharmacist who publishes The Drugstore List, says the group ticketed for the second through fifth rounds should be able to contribute in that role. Plus, the Bengals are looking for youngsters such as Terrell Roberts and Reggie Myles to make the needed improvements and challenge for the spot.

"All these guys play very well against the run," Jones said. "They're not afraid to come up and make a play and take a hit. They may not all have the height, but they all run pretty well."

Things can change, too. After watching Colclough named the North's best defensive player in the Senior Bowl, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., said ""He did what he had to do. He's a solid second-rounder. I don't think anyone is going to gamble on him late in the first round, but he's a solid two and came out of it fine with a good week of practice."

Yet, Kiper now has him projected to go in the third round to the Jets. Still, the 5-11, 193-pound Colclough (pronounced Coakley) showed in Mobile he can adjust to Division I speed and he has followed it up by running a sub 4.5-second 40-yard dash in his workouts. He may need to improve his strength, but he's got stunning return skills (three returns of 85 yards or longer) that are appealing.

Even though Oklahoma's Strait was voted the nation's best defensive back, he's fighting his height (5-10) and the knock he's only a zone corner. Of course, that depends who you ask. Jones insists Strait can cover man-to-man when asked and Kiper has him going ahead of Colclough and after the Bengals pick in the second round to Kansas City at No. 61.

The 6-0, 200-pound LeSueur is an intriguing slash corner/safety guy. He didn't endear himself when he got sick and couldn't play in the Senior Bowl for a secondary already decimated with the loss of Poole and safety Bob Sanders, but some league observers thought LeSueur was the best player in Mobile during practice.

He stumbled running the 40 at the combine, but he also ended up running a 4.55. He's got the size and speed Lewis covets on defense, and Kiper actually has the Bengals taking him in the second round as a cornerback at No. 49.

"You usually run away from those slash guys because you don't know if they can play corner or safety," Jones said. "But this guy can cover. He did it on a high level of competition."

Poole is an enigma. He plays well on tape, where he shows a knack for blitzing and being physical against the run. But he hasn't run great since the season, although he did run recently in the 4.5 range. Is he the mid first-round lock of the combine? Whatever, the Bengals should have a pretty good grip on him. Bruce Coslet, aiding the Bengals' draft room this month, is close to USC head coach Pete Carroll.

The Senior Bowl gave the Bengals a chance to look at a bunch of matchups that should help them in evaluations. They saw LSU wide receiver Devery Henderson, a possible first-rounder, run by Penn State's Gardner for a 67-yard touchdown. Colclough thought his defining moment was when he broke up a third-and-three slant against North Carolina State wide receiver Jericho Cotchery, a projected third-rounder.

But it all gets back to the 6-1, 200-pound Gamble. You know that Frazier loves that size. But does he love the consistently slow 40 times and the time it's going to take to develop a transplanted wide receiver?

One NFL source said Tuesday that, "You hear the whole range on him. I talked to one team official that wouldn't touch him in the first round and other guys are saying he's a great pick."

The Jets apparently won't take Gamble at No. 12 once DeAngelo Hall and Dunta Robinson are gone, but at the combine New York head coach Herman Edwards, like Frazier a former NFL corner, thought it might be easier to work with such a big learning curve.

"He doesn't have a lot of bad technique," Edwards said. "He's just learning. Bring him in and break him down and you start over and go. He's got the talent."

He is, no question, a walking computer printout for the position.

"He's a top 10 athlete," Jones said, "but I think you'd rate him as a top 50 player."

As for Gamble, he thinks his experience as a wide receiver gives him an edge. In fact, he could play a little receiver for you.

"I've got a feel for how the receiver comes off the line, how they run their routes, and when they come out of their breaks," Gamble said at the combine. "I feel like I'm a quick learner. All I have to do is work on my technique, my footwork is all down pat. . .Then when I get with my team, I'm going to learn about the receivers by watching tape."

Gamble is reportedly represented by the Poston brothers, agents who have reputations as tough negotiators. But Bengals vice president Paul Brown has already done a deal with them for a cornerback when both sides quickly did a five-year contract for Deltha O'Neal with a deadline looming to seal the trade with Denver.

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