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Bengals tap playmaker

4-20-02, 8:30 p.m.


Sometimes, it works out just right.

The Bengals had Washington State free safety Lamont Thompson targeted with their second-round pick for a few weeks and didn't blink Saturday night when the defensive centerfielder they have sought seemingly forever was there at No. 41.

How soon Thompson can break into the Bengals starting lineup in front of Cory Hall is up to him and how quickly he picks up a position that has varied responsibilities in the Bengals' scheme. He's now the fourth safety and second free safety on a roster thin at safety. Cornerback Mark Roman is going to work at safety during next month's camps.

"He makes interceptions. We got him for turnovers and if he gets turnovers, he's going to play," said defensive coordinator Mark Duffner of his newest player. "He's been productive. He's a playmaker."

And the Bengals haven't had one of those since when? Since 1996, their safeties have combined for 21 interceptions. Last year, they had just two.

Thompson had 24 interceptions in his four seasons during a career that was interrupted for a year in 2000 by a neck sprain. The Bengals were assured of his health when they learned three doctors cleared him to play this season and he ended up leading the team in tackles.

"I knew that was going to be a question going into the season," Thompson said. "I was just going to go out there and not look back at all. Whatever happens, happens, and don't have any regrets."

Cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle worked out Thompson in his hometown of Richmond, Calif., and figures he threw him about 50 balls. That's the day Thompson began to think he might be coming to Cincinnati.

"I tell you," Coyle said, "there weren't many balls on the ground. His ball skills are as good as any in the draft and that includes Ed Reed (taken in the first round by Baltimore). He had one fewer interception than Reed during the regular season and he had two more in his bowl game, so this is a guy always around the ball."

The 6-2, 215-pound Thompson said his ability to pick off the ball, "comes second nature,", and he thinks he has a shot at starting right away.

"Definitely. I know it's going to be a hard road," he said. "I'm willing to put the work in. I'm going to work hard. I'm going to listen to everybody that's got some advice for me. I'm just really going to go out there and try to give value to the Cincinnati Bengals."

Safeties coach Darren Perry, in the first season of his retirement, has seen safeties in the Thompson mold before and they were pretty good.

"The guys that come to mind are the (Darren) Sharper kid in Green Bay and I don't know if you guys remember Marcus Robertson," said Perry who played most of his career with the Steelers. "When he was in his prime with Houston he was a guy that was a big, athletic safety that made a lot of plays, made a lot of interceptions. He kept me out of the Pro Bowl a couple of years just because it seemed like if I had seven (interceptions), he had nine. That's who he reminds me of because of his size and speed and he's a big-play guy."

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