Defense Bears with Frazier's overhaul

6-9-03, 7:20 a.m. **

Leslie Frazier, 44, the Bengals' new defensive coordinator, goes into his 10th season as a coach and player in the NFL. After coming into the league as an undrafted free agent, he became a cornerback on the Bears' legendary 1985 defense under coordinator Buddy Ryan. He learned the trade coaching 11 seasons in college and comes to Cincinnati after four seasons coaching the Eagles' secondary with coordinator Jim Johnson. He took a break recently from installing his new scheme to talk with Geoff Hobson of bengals.com about where the Bengals' defense is heading into this week's mandatory minicamp. **

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GH:You were also quite a baseball player at Alcorn State and probably would have been drafted in both sports if you didn't hurt your hamstring your senior year. You've stayed a fan of the game. The one thing baseball and football have in common is defense wins games.

LF:In baseball, it's all about pitching and that's defense. I played right field and first base and was a good defensive player. I had a good arm. I'm becoming a fan of the Reds. I've been over there a few times. I really like the way Griffey and Barry Larkin play.

GH:Before Oil Can Boyd went to the majors to pitch for the Red Sox, you got a big hit off him when he was at Jackson State.

LF:It won the game in the ninth with two out and the bases loaded. It was a single. He threw such a hard curve ball that I can't remember if it was a curve or fastball.

GH:With all the moves the team has made since you and Marvin arrived, it seems pretty clear what the philosophy is on defense.

LF:Speed. Getting to the ball. Putting pressure on the quarterback. Being attack-oriented. Getting physical play from your corners, but not hanging them out to dry. A lot of it comes from playing for Buddy Ryan and working with Jim Johnson in Philadelphia. Both guys were very big on scoring defense and we're emphasizing that. Stop people in the red zone. Keep the score low and give your offense a shot. If they have to score, make sure it's a field goal.

GH:It seems like you're really relying on the front seven to stop the run.

LF:** That's a little bit different than some teams. If you study our league, the pass is what you have to be able to defend. Of course, if you don't stop the run, you don't have a chance. Now people are in third-and-short instead of third-and-long.

But the front seven has to handle that. There are some ways you can get that without involving the safeties and bringing the corner up. There are things we do schematically that help us do that. Sometimes it might look like a seven-man front, but it's actually an eight-man front. You really don't want to get in a position of giving up big plays over the top. They can kill you in a hurry.

We don't want to stop the pass at the expense of the run, but it's not enough to just stop the run. I've seen too many times you put eight men in the box and now you give up big plays over the top. You've got to be sound in the passing game, you have to be careful who you're hanging out there. You have to make sure you give the guys help in the back when they need it. There has to be a balance. **

GH:In the past, this defense has had at least one safety known as a run stopper. A strong safety type. But moving Kaesviharn to free safety from cornerback suggests that's not as much of a premium now.

LF:It doesn't have to be that way. A guy has to have some smarts about him, be able to get a guy on the ground, and have some coverability in both positions. That's not necessarily the norm in most schemes. Sometimes they're looking for a better tackler than a cover guy. We may be a little different in that regard. We like to have guys who can match up on a third receiver sometimes. If they go three wideouts on first-and-10, we might want to keep our regular defense on the field so our safeties match up with their slot receivers, hopefully. That's what we did back in Philly and we hope to bring that here.

GH:So you could have what we perceive as two free safeties in the lineup at the same time. Like Kaesviharn and Mark Roman. Or Kaesviharn and Lamont Thompson. You've got Roman with Marquand Manuel now as No. 1, and Manuel is seen as both.

LF:** Quite possibly, depending on how it all shakes out.

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GH:You've talked about Manuel being in position to have a break-out year. What does he have to do?

LF:He's a sharp guy, very responsible on the field and his studies. Not only does he have to be at the right place at the right time, he has to make a play when he gets there. If h can do that, he can become a leader in our secondary. He has leadership qualities, but with that comes making plays and we think he's that kind of guy.

GH:You've got some draft picks there that should be contributing. Roman and Thompson are both second-rounders. Last year when he was a rookie, it seemed like they didn't get as much as they expected from Thompson. What does he have to do to warrant that second pick?

LF:** Probably for him we've got to put on the pads and see how he responds to contact, fills the alley, and being a factor against the run. He's a very good center fielder. He runs well enough, he has good enough change of direction, now we just have to see how physical he can be. He's over that neck problem from college. He's out there throwing his body around and showing no signs of it. Now what he has to do is be consistent week in and week out. All these (young safeties), you'd like to think they're about ready to come into their own.

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GH:* The signing of Tory James and the drafting of Dennis Weathersby show you're looking for the big, physical corners that can press cover. It certainly looks like more man coverage. Do you think your style will help the guys already here, like Jeff Burris and Artrell Hawkins?*

LF:I do believe that. I've told guys that the things that we do with our corners and secondary should favor what I think are their strengths. Both of those guys are more physical than people realize. This defense requires that your corners be good press corners and be physical on outside receivers. That's probably their strength as opposed to off coverage. I think Jeff, and in particular Tory, their strength is being close to the line of scrimmage.

GH:What about Artrell?

LF:Same with Artrell. If he can pick up some of the techniques we're trying to teach, we really believe he'll be a better football player than he was at the end of last season.

GH:* Jeff looked like he was never really comfortable with the scheme last year when he came over from the Colts. Do you think he had a tough time getting adjusted to the young safeties?*

LF:I'm not exactly sure what you attribute his struggles to, but I know what we've been doing he has adapted very well. Matter of fact, he mentioned to me that this system is what he really feels comfortable with and that this is more what he is familiar with. Maybe that will help him. Sometimes at that position, if there is a chink in the armor, mentally, it can affect everything. Sometimes those guys are like Jaguars, or Mercedes. One little thing off is enough to throw off their complete game. He's feeling comfortable right now and hopefully he can keep that confidence.

GH:You've got 13 defensive linemen going for probably eight to nine spots and you just picked up another possible starter at left end in Duane Clemons.

LF:Carl Powell is also going to be a factor at left end right now. We'll see how it pans out. Right now Carl is the guy.

GH:Who backs up Kevin Hardy at middle linebacker now that Canute Curtis has been released?

LF:We're probably looking at Armegis Spearman there. We think he has the athletic ability to be a good player in this league and we have high hopes for him because he gives us a guy who can play inside and outside. He's still a young player who has been hurt the last two years, but he has picked up the system fairly well. Kevin has been everything we expected as far as a leader in the huddle. Our players respected him instantly.

GH:The drafting of Khalid Abdullah indicates a different kind of linebacker for this team. Certainly on the outside.

LF:He's an up and coming guy. The more reps he gets, the better he'll get. We're going to be quicker at that position now at outside linebacker. Hopefully Abdullah comes along faster than most rookies would. You can't get too far ahead of yourself here at this stage of football. You have to see what they do in pads.

GH:* Where did you come up with the philosophy of not selling out on the run?*

LF:** Probably my experience as a player under Buddy and some of the things we did with Jim in Philadelphia. In Buddy's mind, we were going to try and stop the run without giving up big plays in the passing game and one of the ways to do that were not only to pressure the quarterback, but at times pick our spots when to pressure you and not leave those guys in the back alone.

We were going to do some things to take away your top guy. Who ever that guy was. Make you beat us with the tight end or "Z" receiver, or whoever. There aren't a lot of teams that have three great Pro Bowl receivers. There aren't too many teams that have Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, plus a great tight end like the Giants. So you have to take away Jerry Rice and match up with the other guy. That's what we tried to do in Chicago (when the Bears played the 49ers). Take away Jerry Rice and take our chances with John Taylor. **

GH:Although Marvin comes here as the top defensive coordinator in the league, he seems to be giving you a lot of room.

LF:He's been real good about allowing us to do certain things on defense. He's been great when I come to him with questions because the guy is a defensive guru, no question about it, and he's another resource. He told me early on when he asked me about taking the job that he's got to allow me to be comfortable. He's been good about it. The toughest challenge has probably been to integrate what he has with what we've got.

GH:Marvin sits in all the meetings at one time or another. Not just defense. He said that's the one thing he learned from Marty Schottenheimer. The head coach has to coach everything and let his coaches be hands-on and run their areas.

LF:The best coaches I've ever been around trust their guys they hire. What happens when you trust the people you hire, they gain confidence what they're doing, and the team sees that. The team has to know who is their coach at their positions. 'Is he my coach or is he my coach?' I've just tried to be myself.

GH:Where will you call a game?

LF:** I'm going to stay on the sidelines. I think during my experience as a head coach (Trinity of Illinois), I found it much better for me to have direct contact with the players. You're more involved. As long as I know what I called, there shouldn't be a problem. I've got eyes in the pressbox, but this way I can get right to a player to fix something. The only time I've ever been in the box was when I coached the secondary at Illinois and it drove me crazy.

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