Competition not secondary for DBs

7-22-03, 7:40 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

With draft signings around the league picking up this week, the Bengals are hoping to push deals over the top in their last five negotiations before the first practice of training camp this coming Monday. But the going is slow with about half the '03 draft class still unsigned.

Seventh-rounder Elton Patterson figures to sign soon because of his draft position, so the two closest to the fold appear to be the fourth-rounders simply because of the slotting system that is usually used to close deals. According to ESPN.com Tuesday afternoon, the three players selected right behind cornerback Dennis Weathersby at the top of the round at No. 98 and the player selected in front of fullback Jeremi Johnson mid round at No. 118 have already signed.

And third-rounder Kelley Washington could also be headed to a deal because the player drafted behind him at No. 66, Lions defensive end Cory Redding, agreed Tuesday. No. 64, Tampa Bay defensive end Dewayne White, is already in the fold.

But there were no immediate comparisons for second-rounder Eric Steinbach at No. 33. The closest player inked below or above him as of Tuesday afternoon is Patriots cornerback Eugene Wilson at No. 36.

Steinbach, Washington, Weathersby and Johnson are of particular interest because they all have good chances to start by the end of the season. Steinbach is already penciled in as the starting left guard and Weathersby got more room on the roster Tuesday when the Bengals released LaVar Glover at what secondary coach Kevin Coyle says is the most competitive group he's had since he arrived before the 2001 season.

All indications are Weathersby is going to be at Georgetown College Monday because he has a long climb back from the Easter shooting that left him shelved for pretty much two entire months. He's on a rehab roll that has impressed Coyle enough that the coach calls him a "quick learner," and he plans to line him up with everybody else if he's there.

"He's going to go. He's going to get some reps," Coyle said Tuesday. "There's no comparison where he was when he got here last month and where he is now. He hasn't had the extensive off-season program

that other guys have had, but we've been pleased with the steady daily progress down in the weight room. We're going to monitor him, keep a close eye on him, but he's going."

Weathersby's most recent workout numbers have raised some pleased eyebrows, but maybe the most encouraging thing for Coyle, head coach Marvin Lewis, and the rest of the staff is the development of a pleasant relationship. Weathersby had a pre-draft knock as uncommunicative and withdrawn, but Coyle hasn't seen it.

"He's a quiet guy. He's a guy who is going to stay to himself at times, but relationships are constantly being built and that's what is happening here," Coyle said. "He genuinely wants to succeed. He's done everything we've asked him to do and he's been enthusiastic about it. He's very conscientious, coachable and those are things you look for in young guys. He's anxious to be in a situation where football is his No. 1 priority and he doesn't have to worry about the periphery."

Coyle and his assistant, Louie Cioffi, have alternated vacation time with catching up Weathersby since he arrived for the first time during the third week of June. Some recent exhaustive skull sessions went well even though he was asked to smooth a few wrinkles.

"For the last week and a half we reviewed some things and then gave him some things he hadn't been exposed to," Coyle said. "He appears to be a guy on the board who you can classify as a quick learner. We put him in some hypothetical situations on the field with adjustments, checks, things you have to be familiar with, and we've been encouraged by that aspect of it."

With the release of Glover, Weathersby has a clearer path to be the No. 4 corner behind starters Jeff Burris and Tory James and veteran Artrell Hawkins. It would appear second-year man Reggie Myles and free-agent rookies Terrell Roberts (Weathersby's teammate at Oregon State) and South Florida's Maurice Tucker are dueling for the last spot if they keep just five corners. But Coyle also knows converted corners Kevin Kaesviharn and Mark Roman don't have to come very far from the safety spot if needed.

Glover, 24, a Dayton, Ohio product out of the University of Cincinnati, played in two games after the Bengals acquired him twice as a rookie last season.

Glover, a sixth-round pick by the Steelers, was claimed on waivers, released, and then later signed from the Lions' practice squad. His departure leaves seven corners going to camp.

"Myles did some good things in the minicamps and I'm anxious to see what the rookies do," Coyle said. "You take the other guys in the safety mix and our three top guys who have played a lot of years in the league, and it's obviously the deepest we've been in a couple of years and that the competition will be more intense."

The intensity of the rookie negotiations figures to crank up a few notches in the next 24 hours. The Bengals and Steinbach are no doubt preparing to use the other second-round deals if they fit their respective needs.

The Patriots gave Wilson a straight five-year deal, which has to please the Bengals. But New England also gave him a $2 million signing bonus, and things are tight for Cincinnati because of No. 1 pick Carson Palmer's $2.5 million hit on the estimated $4 milion rookie pool. Plus, Steinbach probably wants a four-year deal and he may be looking at deals like the one containing voidable years late in the second round with Atlanta's No. 55 selection. But the Bengals have never done a voidable deal with a second-rounder.

Glenn Rosenberg, the agent for Washington, said the length of the deal isn't the issue with the Bengals.

"It's the overall package," Rosenberg said. "We're hopeful. We're still negotiating."

The agents for Steinbach, Weathersby and Johnson couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

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