Hawkins in another test

Hawkins faces another test

BY GEOFF HOBSON

On paper, it looks like the NFL's biggest mismatch since Dennis Miller went one-on-one with Howard Cosell's '70s-ugly ABC blazer.

Jacksonville's passing game vs. the Bengals secondary. The 809 career receptions of Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell vs. a Cincinnati secondary that allowed David Patten a 95-yard day last Sunday. Smith's 291-yard day against the Ravens last Sunday vs. the team that gave up Browns quarterback Tim Couch's second-biggest passing day of his career last week with 259 yards.

"We can't play like we did against Cleveland, that's for sure," said Bengals secondary coach Ray Horton before today's practice. "We gave up one big play last week. This team will kill you on big plays."

Horton not only watched Smith do it to the Bengals earlier this year with 14 catches in last season's finale, but he also worked against the rookie Smith in the final year of his career with the Cowboys in 1992.

"He was good in college and you could tell he was going to be good because he was big (6-1, 204 pounds) and fast," Horton said. "Some people will say Randy Moss, but Smith is the best receiver in the league now. He'll run by you in a minute or take one over the middle. What do I tell my guys? Use it to measure yourself."

Left cornerback Tom Carter's short-hand scouting report on trying to limit Smith: Challenge him at the line, and show him and quarterback Mark Brunell different defenses in order to get Brunell out of sync on his three-step drops and cut down on Smith's down-field routes.

All of which would make you think right cornerback Artrell Hawkins would be having trouble sleeping this week after he struggled at times last Sunday. There are other players putting the heat on him. Nickel back Rodney Heath and rookie Robert Bean have made more plays than him and there are people inside the club wondering when second-round pick Mark Roman will be ready.

Hawkins is having trouble sleeping, but it's not Smith's No. 82 keeping him up.

"I can't wait to get out there and play this week," said Hawkins after practice. "I want to get back out there. You live and learn. You could call me a raw player and I'm working on the techniques and being patient. Just look at it. You're running backwards and there's a guy coming at you with all these moves. Your first instinct is to turn and run with him because you can. But more times, that will get you beat."

The big play Horton cited a 65-yard pass to Patten over Hawkins and in front of free safety Darryl Williams has been chalked up to a blown assignment. There are people around the club wondering if the defense is too complicated. But Hawkins, Horton and Carter don't buy it.

"Let's put it this way," Hawkins said. "If it wasn't a busted coverage, that play never would have happened. It wasn't that they came after me or whatever. It was a blown assignment and it's still unacceptable. No, it's not too complicated."

Carter looks to Baltimore's similar 4-3 defense, which is designed by Marvin Lewis, a zone-bltiz disciple of Bengals defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, and knows it's one of the best in the league. He also knows Jacksonville rolled up 421 yards and 36 points against the Ravens last week.

"You have to be precise when you play a team like Jacksonville," Carter said. "If a guy misses by one yard, it's a 15-yard play. Against Jacksonville, you do that enough and it's a 500-yard day. This system isn't (complicated) for the corners. The secondary is fine. We do put a lot on the linebackers, but that's what you do with your studs and that's where our studs are."

So it's technique and steps and patience and confidence. Which is why Hawkins and Horton spent about 10 minutes after practice going through some moves. They looked like two lone golfers on a driving range. . .

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"We're tweaking some things with him," Horton said. "He's the toughest corner in the league. Bar none. He'll hit anyone. He's one of the top speed guys. So he's got all the tools. I'm just trying to get him more comfortable. We're working on some hand placement, feet placement. How high he stands."

The Bengals have expected big things out of Hawkins since they took him in the second round out of the University of Cincinnati before the '98 season. After struggling last year, Hawkins has convinced himself this is his break-out year and he won't get down as he hears the boos from the opener.

"If I get four interceptions in a game and get beat once, they'll still talk about the one time you got beat," Hawkins said. "I'm biased. I like Artrell. I'm just going to say positive things about Artrell."

He knows Smith and Brunell are thinking positive after catching their act against the Ravens on tape.

"He's fast, big and has a guy with a great arm getting him the ball," said Hawkins of Smith. "There were a few plays last week where Baltimore had him covered step for step and the only place could put it was a foot away (from the defender). And he did it a few times."

Horton thinks his players were "too hyped up," last Sunday. And he's looking for more discipline. They are fine for a stretch of plays, but then have a couple of bad ones.

"If we don't do the things we're supposed to do," Horton said, "these guys will make it a long day for you."

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