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Calling all (young) corners

With the Bengals bracing for New England's multiple receiver sets, their goal is to activate all their cornerbacks for Sunday's game.

Which means not only does fifth-round pick Robert Bean become the Bengals' sixth different starting left corner in the last 27 games, but second-round pick Mark Roman looks to be in uniform for just the third game this season.

"We're trying to get more playing time for them with this point in the season and the record," said secondary coach Ray Horton Wednesday. "Let the kids play a little."

Charles Fisher, another second-round cornerback who is virtually a rookie because he played just one quarter last year before ripping up his knee, probably won't get his shot until next year. The Bengals have to decide next Tuesday if they will activate Fisher, cut him, or put him on injured reserve.

While Horton has seen enough good things from Fisher in his three weeks of practice that he doesn't think the Bengals will cut him, Horton also doesn't have any room for him on the active roster.

"If you put him on IR, that would be pretty good because then he's ready to go next year," Horton said. "He looks good. I wouldn't put him in a game yet because he hasn't tackled or anything. But there's no limp or gimping along."

Horton knows Sunday's starting tandem of Bean and right cornerback Rodney Heath isn't exactly what he had in mind when the club chose Artrell Hawkins, Fisher, and Roman all in the second round starting in 1998.

Hawkins lost his job earlier this season to Heath, a former undrafted player who toiled in an arena league before coming in off the street last season. Now Carter, a former first-rounder making $2.2 million this season, has lost out to Bean in a secondary that is 19th in the NFL against the pass and is coming off a 308-yard torching from Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman.

Heath, a Western Hills High School product from Cincinnati, has bloomed into a competent cornerback who is probably more suited as an extra corner at 5-8, 175 pounds.

"You can't call Rodney a street player any more because he's proven he can play for anyone in this league," Horton said. "Especially at that position, you just have to keep firing. It's the nature of the game with teams like St. Louis, Washington, Minnesota, passing for 400 yards every game. If you don't keep getting guys out there, you're wrong."

Horton admits it's difficult to project college cornerbacks because of the difficulty of the position and the fact the colleges just don't have the speedy, explosive receivers that are in the NFL.

But he insists Roman isn't a bust. Horton wishes he could have eased Hawkins and Fisher into the lineup in the same fashion, but they started the first NFL games they played.

Horton looks at the first corner taken last April and Denver's Deltha O'Neal is only returning kicks. Last season, first-rounder Antoine Winfield started just two games while working mainly in the Bills' third corner on passing downs.

"It's not uncommon," Horton said. "That's the way you'd like to bring a young kid along. For me, this is perfect. Now I can get the kid in and let him play some."

BEAN COUNTING ON IT: After playing the second half in Carter's spot against Aikman, Bean knows what Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe has planned.

"They're coming right after me," said the 5-11, 178-pound Bean.

Bean thinks he got a jump on the switch from Mississippi State to the pros because he attended all the summer workouts he could and then got into training camp on time.

"Speed of the game, and technique and trying to be smart," Bean said of the reasons for his quick adjustment. "It didin't take me long. Playing a lot of special teams helped learning the speed of the game."

Roman sat out the first 19 days of training camp, which apparently hasn't helped him. Horton thought the extra one-on-one attention he could give Bean in July and August enhanced his development.

Plus, the guy can tackle. He's fourth on the team in special teams tackles with four.

"That was his nation-wide reputation in the draft," Horton said. "His ability to tackle and he's answered that question from Day One."


ICEMAN COMETH:** A Bengals' team starving for yards and points got a visit from royalty Wednesday when Isaac Curtis showed up at practice. Bengals coach Dick LeBeau called over the man generally regarded as the greatest receiver in Bengals' history and told him to join the team during the last few drills.

Then after practice, LeBeau asked Curtis to address the team and when he finished, LeBeau said, "In honor of "The Ice Man," no gassers."

Which meant no Wednesday sprints for the first time in the LeBeau era and Curtis is now the team's most popular former player.

Most of the Bengals weren't even born when Curtis and offensive coordinator Ken Anderson began hooking up for 51 career touchdown passes, 10th most all-time of any duo.

But Anderson got their attention when he told them Curtis ran faster than even Darnay Scott, the Bengals current speed merchant sitting out with a broken leg.

Curtis has had a chance to watch rookie receiver Peter Warrick and thinks the kid has a big future.

"He's going to be a great receiver, he's got all the qualities," Curtis said. "Speed, quickness. He's had trouble dropping a few balls, but I think he'll settle down.

"Look at him. It's not like he can't catch. I remember him in preseason making a one-handed grab. That was great hands. Maybe it's a little concentration. He's trying to make something happen when he gets his hands on it. And you can see why because that's his strength. I think once the offense and (quarterback Akili Smith) get some experience, he'll have a great career."

INJURY UPDATE: LT John Jackson, out this week, fears it may take as long as three weeks for his pulled hamstring to heal. . .DE Vaughn Booker was sent home before practice because he was ill. . .DT John Copeland underwent an MRI Wednesday for a lower back strain and is questionable. . .RT Willie Anderson sat out with lower back pain, but is probable. LB Adrian Ross (ankle) is coming around quicker than last week and should play.

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