Crowded corner

3-27-02, 11:00 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Even with the signing of their starting cornerbacks, the Bengals are still thinking about taking another one with the 10th pick in next month's NFL Draft.

But with Artrell Hawkins on the right and Jeff Burris on the left, they don't have to, either.

"If we didn't get Burris, we would have had to have drafted one there," said Bengals President Mike Brown Wednesday. "But if there's a guy there we think is a really good player, we'll take him and that would mean the corner situation would be settled for the next three to four years and that's a good place to be."

The most likely prospect is Miami of Florida's Phillip Buchanon, a wondrous athlete who Brown compares to six-time Bengals Pro Bowler Lemar Parrish.

"He would be running next to the wide receiver who was running as hard as he could," Brown said, "and Lemar would be running right with him and he wasn't going full speed."

But then there's the Rodney Heath factor, last year's Opening Day starter who assured people Wednesday that his rehab is ahead of schedule and, "I always find a way to creep in there some sort of way or other."

If Heath comes back from his completely torn hamstring, it's going to make things interesting for a suddenly crowded secondary. He says

he could be back for the mini-camp and voluntary workouts in May, but doubts the coaches will let him cut loose until the July 26 start of training camp.

Heath says he can pretty much run at full speed, but he hasn't gone outside yet because the grass is wet. This past week in the stadium gym, Heath covered receiver Peter Warrick and said he surprised him by staying close and low in his back pedal.

"Really, I can do anything," Heath said. "If anything, I think I'm going to come back faster, if not as fast, because my rehab has been so hard. Plus, I've been trying to get bigger up top (182 pounds from 175) and I feel much stronger.I've got no pain. With Jeff and Artrell, it's hard to say, but you have to say now they're going to be out there. I'm just worried about getting back healthy. Like I said, I always manage to creep in there."

Heath is all for the Burris signing. He compares it to the addition of seven-year NFL corner Tom Carter at the end of Heath's rookie season in 1999.

"Tom was my man. A veteran who helped everyone else," Heath said. "If it makes us a better team, I like it. I've watched Jeff play at Indy, Buffalo, and Notre Dame, and he's a good athlete and a good technician."

BIG MEN GATHER: Former Bengals offensive lineman Dave Lapham, the club's popular radio analyst, hosts the Dave Lapham Big Man's Camp April 2-4 for junior high school and high school linemen at the University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium. Tuition is $200 in what is the first fundraiser for the Corey Dillon Foundation, with all proceeds going to the foundation.

Among Lapham's faculty is Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Munoz, as well as his Super Bowl

linemates of Bruce Kozerski, Max Montoya , and Joe Walter. The camp is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and lunch will be served. There are no helmets or shoulder pads.

"It's all going to be about technique and fundamentals," Lapham said. "We'll be going over foot work, hand placement, stance and we'll be talking about strength and conditioning."

Campers can register at playlikethepros.com, or they can call 859-331-7529.

By the way, Dillon is in fine fettle three weeks after arthroscopic surgery cleaned out his left knee. He has started normal workouts at Paul Brown Stadium, which are the first of his career in the offseason in Cincinnati. He gets a work-out bonus as part of the five-year, $26.1 million deal he signed last year.

His weight-room work included the leg press, and he had no problem jamming his feet into the floor for a pump fake during a casual half-court game of 2-on-2 basketball that pitted him and linebacker Chris Edmonds against Peter Warrick and Chad Johnson. A good life? ESPN plans to feature him in a segment of "The Life."

"I'd be down here anyway if I wasn't getting paid," Dillon said. "The knee feels great. I'm back to doing everything I need to do."

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