Corners on spot

10-16-01, 7:45 a.m.

Updated:10-16-01, 11:50 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

With Rodney Heath scheduled to visit one of the nation's leading hamstring specialists Wednesday, the Bengals put him on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday while planning to work their second-year cornerbacks into the starting lineup.

Robert Bean and Mark Roman, 2000 draft picks who have struggled to gain consistent playing time, will now get their chance to see who starts opposite Artrell Hawkins at left cornerback when preparation for Sunday's game against the Bears begins Wednesday.

The club filled Heath's spot when they signed rookie cornerback Ligarius Jennings off Detroit's practice squad after none of the league's available veteran cornerbacks interested them. Jennings, a 5-8, 202-pound, undrafted free agent from Tennessee State, figures not to be active against the Bears and probably not when the Bengals play his old team in Detroit Oct. 28.

The Bengals did get some good news medically Monday after defensive tackle Tony Williams visited Dr. Pierce Scranton in Seattle. The orthopedic foot and ankle specialist said Williams doesn't need surgery on his mid-foot sprain and he's still on track to return after the Nov. 4 bye week.

While nickel cornerback Tom Carter is in the mix, the club clearly needs Roman and Bean, second- and fifth-round picks respectively, to make the plays they drafted them to make.

"Both are going to have an opportunity and we aren't going to decide anything until we see how they prepare during the week," said cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle. "There's a chance both will play some and the situation will play itself out."

Bean, who flashed in his four rookie starts, didn't have a good outing Sunday when he came off the bench after Heath completely tore his hamstring in the first quarter. Browns wide receiver Kevin Johnson beat him for a 30-yard touchdown catch and he gave up another big pass on

Cleveland's other scoring drive.

"He's got to be more patient," Coyle said. "The first one was a slant and go and he overreacted to the slant. On the other one on the backside, they were looking to throw the opposite way and he drifted a little bit and he was chasing. He didn't play as well as we know he can, but that's the first time this season he's had a considerable number of snaps."

Roman, who started the final two games of last season when Bean got hurt, did get some snaps Sunday in the pass package when Carter's sore knee flared and he got one of the Bengals' three sacks.

"Both guys need to get more consistent on the deep ball," Coyle said. "It's decision making and footwork and that's something that's going to improve with the more work they get."

Bean, hampered a bit last week in practice by a sore shoulder, has shown the ability to make something happen with three interceptions among his work in two preseasons and last year. Roman has improved enough after last year's three-week holdout that he's also been taking some snaps at safety.

But Heath's loss is a big one in a secondary shy on experience. They lose his 23 starts and his willingness to come up in run support. Which is how he got hurt Sunday when his left leg came out from under him as he went to cut down Cleveland running back James Jackson.

He's scheduled for a visit Wednesday with Dr. Bill Garrett at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Garrett is the specialist to whom the Reds turned when Ken Griffey Jr.'s hamstring took longer than expected to heal.

Jennings, 23, a two-time all-Ohio Valley Conference player with seven career interceptions, impressed the Bengals on special teams during their 27-24 pre-season victory in Detroit back in August.

"He's a strong kid with good speed," said defensive coordinator Mark Duffner. "He's athletic and has size."

But the Bengals are down to four cornerbacks for at least Sunday's game. Starting free safety Cory Hall is the most likely candidate to move in a pinch.

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