Draft Deja vu?

4-29-04, 3:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Kim Herring thought it looked awfully familiar when he first arrived in Cincinnati last month.

Now after watching last weekend's NFL Draft, he knows why.

Marvin Lewis and his Baltimore days with Ozzie Newsome

"Do your research now on that '97 draft," said Herring this week. "It's a little odd. Scary. But it's going to be interesting."

Back in 1997, Lewis headed into his second year as Baltimore's defensive coordinator when the Ravens had 12 draft picks. All but one made the team that year. All but two of those who made it were in Baltimore at least two seasons. Five of them contributed heavily to the Super Bowl championship in the 2000 season, and four started that night in Tampa Bay against the Giants.

Did Lewis just guide the Bengals through a similar change of life draft heading into his second year as head coach with 11 draft picks?

"If it is," said Herring, one of those Super Bowl starters, "then, see you in the playoffs."

Lewis hates to compare any two things, but he says the drafts are alike in one sense.

"We're now able to compete with the rest of the league athletically," Lewis said. "There's no question that this team is further along than that Baltimore team. We were coming off a four-win season. We were in need of young bodies. That was a changing-of-the-guard draft."

Lewis says the '04 draft in Cincinnati could also be just as important. But the Ravens were picking much higher in '97 than the Bengals this year. Defensive end Peter Boulware went No. 4 and linebacker Jamie Sharper No. 34 in the second round compared to running back Chris Perry (No. 24) and cornerback Keiwan Ratliff (No. 49).

Like the Bengals this year, the Ravens had two No. 2s, and Herring turned out to be the second out of Penn State at No. 58, a choice they got from Denver in a trade for tackle Tony Jones. Yes, the Bengals also got No. 56 in a trade, for running back Corey Dillon.

Those first three selections for the Ravens started in the Super Bowl, as did the fifth-rounder, center Jeff Mitchell. Linebacker Cornell Brown, one of two sixth-rounders, contributed on defense and special teams.

Herring says the players already here have to realize these draft picks aren't here just because the league said they had to draft new players the last weekend in April. He still remembers the one draft pick that didn't make it.

"Steve Lee," Herring said of a sixth-rounder. "A big fullback from Indiana."

It's not lost on Herring that the Bengals second-round selection this year is also a safety and that he went No. 56, Maryland's Madieu Williams.

"It reminds me when I got drafted after watching Stevon Moore play when he was in Cleveland," said Herring, a product of nearby Solon, Ohio. "He was the guy next to me. I was playing free and he was playing strong. I can kind of envision that almost if I think about it. Whenever he's ready."

When it comes to the safeties, Lewis says this is a different situation. Herring was pretty much a cover safety coming into the NFL who played some nickel corner. The Bengals think Williams, a good tackler, can also do that.

"I tell the young guy, I have no problems playing in the box. I have no problem, with that," Herring said. "It's the same thing when I first got to Baltimore. I didn't play in the box. I was what? 195, 200 pounds? Stevon was 215. It's just funny the way it's working out."

But Lewis says the young guys just didn't come in and take over. The Ravens added a Pro Bowl veteran in Rod Woodson to give the secondary some ballast. That paved the way to draft first-round cornerbacks in 1998 in Duane Starks and in 1999 in Chris McAlister.

The Bengals' 49th pick this year, Ratliff, is going to be playing behind a Pro Bowl corner in Deltha O'Neal and a Super Bowl corner in Tory James.

The Ravens were clearly picking for the future. They went 6-10 after that '97 draft, which is why when Lewis looks at Vinny Testaverde/Eric Zeier at quarterback, Bam Morris at running back and Derrick Alexander and Michael Jackson at receivers, he says the Bengals of '04 can't be compared to the '97 Ravens.

"We're further along," Lewis said. "But now we've got competition all up and down the roster."

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