Corner display

Terence Newman

At first glance Artrell Hawkins, who started his NFL career making 72 starts for the Bengals at corner and ended it getting a playoff sack for the Patriots at safety, sees similar versatility from his corner descendants in Cincinnati.

As he sat watching tape Wednesday of the Bengals corner display of draft glitter during their first voluntary workout of the spring the previous day, Hawkins also got a whiff of déjà vu from those Patriotic days.

"Obviously they feel like their two most important positions on defense are cornerback and the defensive line; that's the right formula," said Hawkins, a Bengals Radio Network analyst still versatile as a national talk show host for Fox Radio.

"I learned that in New England. If you've got a dominant line and guys that can cover in the back end ... we had a line that wouldn't let you run or pass or do anything and Asante Samuel was the cornerback who got turnovers, able to make plays because of the pressure. That's the direction they're headed. And they've got corners with value that can make plays."

Three of them, Leon Hall (Achilles), Nate Clements (abdomen) and Dre Kirkpatrick (hamstring), didn't work Tuesday during the only one of the three practices this week open to the media.

But the two new veterans, Terence Newman and Jason Allen, as well as incumbent third corner Adam Jones, put themselves on tape and the 1998 second-round pick was impressed with the three first-round draft picks in the next decade.

Hawkins said about the same thing that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said to an observer while watching Newman go through drills a few weeks back.

"What the heck is wrong with this guy? He looks as good as he ever did."

Newman, who turns 34 early this season, says he feels about "26 and a half" after getting cut following nine seasons in Dallas. And Hawkins can see why.

"Watching him from the side, you wouldn't think he's a 10-year player," Hawkins said. "Maybe he's lost a step, but he can still run and move well. And he's smart. He's definitely still a starter in this league."

Hawkins also likes Allen's size and savvy, but he says the best corner on the field athletically is Jones. With Hall and Clements nursing injuries, he can understand why the coaches are comfortable with Newman and Allen at this point. There is that 40-yard touchdown bomb that Jones gave up to Houston's Andre Johnson that made it a 14-point deficit in the playoffs and Jones admitted when he signed his one-year deal back in March that play hasn't been very far from his mind.

"(Jones) is coming back from the neck injury and he's coming off giving up a play, so it's a matter of getting trust back with himself and his coaches," Hawkins said. "But he really looks good closing on the ball. When he sticks his foot in the ground and goes, they don't have anybody that goes and gets it like Adam."

Newman not only looks good, but he's an extension of Zimmer on the field even though Tuesday was their first practice together in six years. The bond goes deeper than just their four seasons together.

Newman goes back to their first season in 2003. The same day the Bengals upset the undefeated Chiefs, the playoff Cowboys lost a 12-0 game to Tom Brady's eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots. Even though Brady threw for just 212 yards, Newman remembers them "hitting on all cylinders."

"Let me tell you a story," Newman said.

"Everybody was down after the game and Zim approached me. I always respected him, but the way he said things to me, 'Hey, you played your butt off. I'm proud of you.' Ever since that moment I've looked at him as more than just a teacher or coach, but sort of like that big brother, the uncle, the father figure. His style goes way beyond coaching. He's hard on us, but what father isn't hard on his son?"

After Tuesday's practice Newman talked about how he's fallen into some bad habits. Steps. Footwork. He's working to get out of it with reps. Hawkins has been there.

"They're not hard to break if you make it a directive and you make it a priority and you do the film study," Hawkins said. "The fact he's back with Zimmer is probably going to help him a lot with respect to trust. I think you're going to see a big jump. I like the way he looks. He looks the part."

With Kirkpatrick coming in from Alabama, Newman from Dallas, and Allen coming over from the same Texans that ended the Bengals season, Hawkins said one of the challenges is going to be gelling. Allen, drawn to the Bengals in free agency by their youth, enthusiasm, talent and the hearty recommendation of teammate Johnathan Joseph, doesn't see that as a problem.

Newman's great locker room-rep has shown up. Last weekend he appeared at both events of the Marvin Lewis Golf Classic and this week he stayed on the field after practice with third-year corner Brandon Ghee as they worked against a group of receivers.

"It's a good group of guys; there's no animosity or hostility," said Allen, a first-round pick of Miami in 2006. "There's a lot of interaction out there. We're trying to get better among ourselves and we're trying to get better as a team. There's a lot of teaching going on. The thing you can't coach is experience. Terence, me and Adam have a lot of experience and I feel like having that experience and knowledge of the game helps teach the young guys.

"We're talking to each other out there and helping each other because when you get to the point you think you know it all, you need to stop playing the game."

So with vets like that, the Bengals figure they have the chemistry thing covered. What Hawkins is wondering is what exactly does Zimmer have in mind for this deep crop.

Whether it's the savvy and speedy Newman able to play slot corner, or the heady and tall Allen able to slip over from corner to safety, or the rangy Kirkpatrick playing physical like a safety, anything seems possible. Although there are those here that believe Allen has been hurt swinging between the two spots and think he'll be a better corner if that's all he plays.

With the Bengals seeking a replacement for safety Chris Crocker, Zimmer has joked that they'll be the first team in history to play with three corners. Hawkins says, don't laugh.

"A lot of these guys are interchangeable and Marvin (Lewis) has moved more that way," Hawkins said. "It's a matter of getting value with one guy at a couple of spots. It's like a defensive tackle playing fullback on the goal line. It's harder to game plan for and in this day and age, it's the more you do, the more you stay around. Because other teams have been successful that have tried it (Hawkins's Pats leading the way), other teams are willing to try it."

At first glance, Hawkins sees a lot of possibilities.

"They're in a good situation," he said.

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