Cornerbacks take stage

10-25-01, 3:55 p.m.

Updated: 10-25-01, 9:25 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Ligarius "Bo," Jennings, named for a Shakespeare character, finds himself in an ironic twist that only the Bard would love when the Bengals play in Detroit Sunday.

Jennings is in just his second week with the Bengals' decimated secondary since he landed on the active roster from the Lions practice squad.

But he's helping his new teammates as much as he's helping them. Jennings, who practiced every day against the Detroit receivers, is giving the Bengals a crash course on a corps that is just as injured as the Bengals' cornerbacks.

Nickel back Tom Carter was downgraded to questionable Thursday when a magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI) revealed he has a low-grade sprain of the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Carter didn't practice Thursday, but head coach Dick LeBeau said, "We think there's a good probability Tom will be able to play."

When Carter and Robert Bean went down last Sunday against the Bears, Jennings had to make his NFL debut after one week of practice with his new team as the nickel back. With the way the Lions are passing, Jennings figures to get plenty of time against his old team whether Carter plays or not.

"I don't have anything against them," Jennings said. "I thought I was good enough to make the team. But I'm getting a chance here."

The Bengals head to Detroit with dramatic timing. They face the Lions' third-rated pass offense in the NFL

in the week quarterback Charlie Batch is coming off the first 300-yard games of his career without two cornerbacks in Bean and Rodney Heath and a question mark in Carter.

Of course, the Lions are nearly as banged up at receiver. Their big play people, Herman Moore and Germane Crowell, are on injured reserve. Little-used Desmond Howard caught his first touchdown pass in six years last week, rookie Scotty Anderson is expected to dress for his first game, and Bert Emanuel arrives hot off the wire from the Patriots.

Plus, Batch didn't practice again Thursday with shoulder tendenitis. He's expected to play Sunday, but he may not practice Friday, either.

"Batch has a lot of poise," Jennings said. "He's got an accurate arm and a quick release. He can move, too."

Batch still has veteran receiver Johnnie Morton, one of the more solid guys around who is coming off his third 100-yard game of the season. He'll start along with second-year player Larry Foster, who has six catches after grabbing 17 as a rookie.

"He's very fast," Jennings said of Foster. "You can't be grabbing for him because he'll go by you. (Morton) is a big guy. You have to get right on top of him. Scotty Anderson is a very good player. A lot of people up there are wondering why he hasn't been playing."

The 5-8, 202-pound Jennings spent some time wondering why he wasn't drafted out of Tennessee State. Draft gurus such as Mel Kiper Jr., (who rated him the 129th player in the country) thought highly of him.

"Lack of ideal height and level of competition are the major concerns," Kiper wrote in his last 2001 draft report. "But he's experienced, fundamentally sound, and really seems to enjoy the physical aspects of the game. In fact, he ranks as one of the toughest, more aggressive pure CBs in the draft."

Jennings thinks he didn't get drafted because he had to play some safety because of injuries and a leg injury of his own slowed his 40-yard time at the combine to 4.59 seconds.

"He's been more than (a physical, tough guy) for us," said cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle. "He's been a good cover guy with good speed and he's been an excellent practice player. He's watched a lot of film and he's done a nice job in preparation."

Jennings has no illusions about what's going to happen Sunday.

"I think they're going to come at me," Jennings said of the Lions. "They're going to try and single me up and come at me. I think I've got a little bit of an advantage because I know which guys can run and who has a knack for doing what."

Bears rookie David Terrell got some yards on Jennings last week, so he went back to the drawing board. He comes in early (7:30 a.m.), leaves late (5:30 p.m.), and says he has been taking back to the hotel enough video, "for a theater full."

"What I did, I did to myself," Jennings said of the Bears' game. "I have to see what I did wrong and correct it."

Coyle said Jennings held up well during his first game and showed ability transferring the Xs and Os from tape and the board to the field.

Some more Bard irony? Jennings' position coach in Detroit was Dick Selcer, the Cincinnati native and Elder High School product who coached the Bengals' linebackers from 1984-91.

"They did a good job with him up there. He came in well-coached," Coyle said. "You could tell he's had a training camp and had played in the (preseason) games. Yeah, it was a different scheme, but he's been able to take some things from it and use it in this one."

With Coyle down to the nub with people, free safety Cory Hall is the first safety who will make the move to corner if needed in a four-receiver set. The last time Hall worked at corner was two years ago in his rookie season's finale in which Jacksonville Pro Bowl receiver Jimmy Smith racked up a chunk of his 150-plus yards against him on a big pass.

"I know I can run with them," Hall said. "The problem is will I be able to react when it's an 18-yard come-back route? I know I can run straight down the field with them."

Coyle, in his first NFL season as an assistant after spending the last 10 seasons as a Division I defensive coordinator, has had these MASH seasons before.

"It's been interesting," said Coyle of his first pro ride. "But I've always looked at it the same way. I only can coach the guys who are healthy. You have to keep going. They don't stop playing the games."

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