Carter in; Harris next?

4-09-01, 7: 20 p.m.

Updated: 4-09-01, 11:20 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

With one cornerback back in the fold Monday in Tom Carter, could another be on the way to Cincinnati in the person of former Bears teammate Walt Harris?

The Bengals denied published reports Monday that they are close to a deal with Harris, but Carter is hoping he's reunited with his dear friend from their days in Chicago.

"We're like brothers. We talk every day and it'd be great to have Walt here," Carter said. "He's the top young cornerback out there (in free agency), so he's got some decisions to make. I told him no matter what he does, he's got to feel comfortable."

Carter felt comfortable enough to re-sign with the Bengals Monday for one year, even though the team benched him late last season and cut his $2.4 million salary six weeks ago.

"I don't think so," said Brian Levy, Harris' agent, when asked late Monday night if Carter's signing would be a factor for his client. "We talked about that early on because Tom and Walt are best friends, but I don't know if that's going to be an inducement."

Levy said Harris could decide between Chicago and Cincinnati by Friday, but said the Bengals would have to put more money on the table to be competitive.

"St. Louis has asked us to wait until after the draft and we could do that," Levy said. "There's no rush. The Bengals have our proposal. Right now, it's really on them."

In other club news,

the Bengals said Monday they aren't bringing Michigan wide receiver David Terrell into Saturday's open house for college players at Paul Brown Stadium. His foot stress fracture passed a medical re-check this past weekend by team doctors as he becomes more attractive for Cincinnati's fourth pick in the April 21-22 NFL Draft.

The Bengals are still waiting for Steelers defensive end Kevin Henry's contract to arrive via the mail, but they only had to fax as far as the east side of Cincinnati to secure Carter's signature Monday afternoon.

With the Bengals finishing next-to-last in the NFL with 26 sacks and Carter driven to the bench with 11 holding or pass interference penalties, the club knows its two latest moves haven't addressed the biggest needs on defense.

But while Henry may have just one sack in the past two seasons, the Bengals view him as a solid run stuffer who can play all four spots on the defensive line.

He provides depth, the Bengals say, for a unit decimated last season by injuries, some of which are lingering into minicamp. For instance, tackle Tom Barndt's injured shoulder won't be cleared until the July 20 start of training camp.

As for the 28-year-old Carter, the Bengals still like his ability to get in position and make some plays and his marvelous locker room presence. They are also still trying to sign corners like Harris or San Diego's DeRon Jenkins, as well trolling the draft's second or third round for the elusive answer down on the corner.

"Remember, Tom saved

two games for us last year with his ball skills," said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel, referring to interceptions in the last minutes against Cleveland and Arizona.

"He's usually in position and he does have the ability at times to find the ball," Lippincott said.

Carter got lit up by even some his teammates when he came off the bench and struggled on jump balls against Titans receivers Yancey Thigpen and Carl Pickens in the 35-3 loss in Tennessee Dec. 10.

But he's also got 27 career interceptions and 98 NFL starts compared to the seven interceptions and 96 NFL games that belong to the fivesome competing with Carter for a starting job: Rodney Heath, Artrell Hawkins, Robert Bean, Charles Fisher and Mark Roman.

Carter also leads the Bengals in class, which is why he has no misgivings about returning to them for a one-year deal that figures to be just above the $477,000 minimum salary and would max out at $1 million with incentives.

"(Head coach) Dick LeBeau is a fair guy and I like playing for him," Carter said. "If you're playing well, he'll get you back in there. I like the guys, the scheme, and the coaches. And we want to stay in Cincinnati for awhile."

Carter, leader of the Bengals' Bible study, has found a comfortable spiritual community in Cincinnati. So the St. Petersburg, Fla., import has decided to put down some roots after stops at Notre Dame, the Redskins and the Bears.

He also likes the golf, and he's taken some inspiration from a man named Tiger Woods. After watching Woods win his sixth major title at Sunday's Masters, Carter tried to relate.

"The great thing about Tiger is that he's always talking about giving yourself a chance. It's all about putting yourself in position," Carter said. "If you can do that, you can make something happen and that's what I'm going to keep trying to do."

Two other teams were apparently pursuing Carter on a one-year deal, but he held steady in his refusal to sign for two years in Cincinnati. In the end, the club relented, hoping their young corners will have finally matured by then

"I want to go out there and have a good year and see what happens," Carter said. "I feel I've got a few good years left. I think it's a fair deal for both sides."

Carter knows some people just won't understand why he's returning to the team that benched him and slashed his salary.

"It's all relative," Carter said. "It's a great work environment with the coaches and players. Playing in the NFL is still the greatest job in the world."

The Bengals would also like to get Harris, 26, the Bears' first-round pick in 1996. But Lippincott, who hasn't talked to his agent in a week, said Harris turned down the Bengals' offer and that the Bears still have one out to him.

"I know he likes Chicago, but he has to do what he has to do," Carter said. "He's interested in Cincinnati. I don't know if he's leaning any way, but I just told him he's got to weigh it all and see how it feels."

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