Hawkins leads defense

7-28-01, 10:05 P.M.

Updated: 7-30-01, 10:50 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _

Head coach Dick LeBeau has been emphasizing it.

New defensive coordinator Mark Duffner has been stressing it.

Defensive captain Takeo Spikes has been raving about it.

But who expected cornerback Artrell Hawkins to underline the bid for generating more turnovers on a day the defense that finished with an AFC-low 21 last year came up with two in 45 plays?

Hawkins, who hasn't intercepted a ball in 31 straight regular-season

games, ended the offense's first drive of the day in the red zone Saturday by stepping in front of a Jon Kitna pass at the four-yard line. It would have been a 96-yard touchdown return if it wasn't the intrasquad scrimmage.

The play continues Hawkins' rise from last season's benching to his starting position at right cornerback when training camp started last week.

"I just think it all gets down to focus and my personal life is so much more focused," Hawkins said. "I was talking to Takeo the other day and we now know what it takes to win. Most of the time it takes a personal victory and now I'm a champion off the field and it's easier for me to prepare."

Hawkins was in zone coverage behind tight end Tony McGee when he stepped in front of the throw-back pass.

"I don't think Kitna saw me because I was right behind Tony and I think Tony was right in Kitna's line of sight," Hawkins said. "It's what you've been saying. The computer says I'm a good player, but I know I can make plays."

Spikes saw Hawkins make a play where he aggressively went for the ball.

"That's just what this defense needs," Spikes said. "We always seem to be in position, but don't make any plays. That's why I thought today was good for us. They moved the ball, but one of our things is making plays on third down to get off the field. And today we got off the field when our backs were up against it and shut them out."

Hawkins, who hasn't had an interception since three his rookie season, is staying humble. He remembers he intercepted a tipped ball in last year's scrimmage.

"I remember some games he did make the play." LeBeau said. "We were in Minnesota and he was on (Randy) Moss and he had two interceptions and he played a wonderful game. With Artrell, what we keep preaching to him is consistency and performing up to his athletic ability. He's a tremendous athlete.

"He definitely would have scored on that play, there's no question about it," LeBeau said. "Again, it is a salient point with the defense. It is something that we consistently talk about and that is: If you make the offense continue to put the ball in play, the odds are very strong that you will be successful. Somewhere, some way, they are going to hold, they are going to throw it to you, or they are going to drop the ball as a fumble and that's what happened in that drive. Artrell made the play and it was a good play, he aggressively went for the ball."

**

FIRST CUTS:** The Bengals made their first cuts of training camp Monday morning, lopping free safety Gary Thompkins and defensive tackle Calvin Lewis. The Bengals cut Thompkins last August before re-signing the free agent from West Virginia to the practice squad and sending him to NFL Europe this past spring. The departure of Lewis, a rookie free agent out of Memphis, leaves a dozen defensive linemen at what may be the team's most competitive position.

CD SHELVED: Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon didn't play Saturday, but he was ready.

"I'm not going to go against the program if that's what the coaches want. I'm going with the coaches," Dillon said. "I don't mind, but I would like to have taken some snaps."

Dillon got the loudest cheer of the estimated 5,100 fans at Rawlings Stadium during pre-game introductions. And Dillon, who was the last one announced, came out virtually dancing down the line of his teammates.

"Corey gave me a couple steps from my Elvis (Presley) routine in the warm up there, and I thought that was enough activity for him," said LeBeau, referring to his Elvis impersonation to open minicamp. "I think we'll be a little careful with Corey early in the preseason. I think it makes sense. He's in the best shape that I've seen him ever at this stage. I'm going to keep harping on him to stay in that condition. We're going to pound on him on the practice field a little. At some point, we're going to have to get him some live action in the preseason, but I really didn't think the first scrimmage was the place to do that."

Right tackle Willie Anderson also didn't play because he was at his grandmother's funeral in Mobile, Ala.

AKILI UPBEAT: "I did all right," said quarterback Akili Smith, who completed three of six passes for 20 yards. "The defense is always supposed to win these things. I'm looking forward to do the things I can't do in the scrimmage, like scramble and run. . .I'm definitely not where I want to be."

Smith still wasn't as consistent on his accuracy as Kitna or Scott Mitchell. But he also made some decisive decisions

that pleased Bratkowksi.

He did have a high throw to an open Chad Johnson on the sideline, threw behind receiver Peter Warrick over the middle, and had a pass batted down by defensive tackle Tom Barndt.

But he also muscled a shot to Johnson over the middle and quickly got rid of a 10-yarder to tight end Brad St. Louis with a defender in his face.

"I think it's still neutral," said Smith of the derby. "I don't think anybody really helped themselves all that much today. It's still too early. It's coming down to the four pre-season games, when the live bullets start flying and I can start doing some things I couldn't (Saturday) as far as scrambling."

Smith was part of a botched shot-gun snap with center Rich Braham on fourth-and-10 that was recovered by defensive end Jevon Langford. The snap took Smith by surprise.

"I was making my protection calls and when I said, 'set,' Richie snapped the ball. I don't know if he didn't hear me or I mumbled or something like that. You tend to make mistakes on days like this."

THIS AND THAT: Kickers Neil Rackers and Richie Cunningham had enough leg on their long field-goal tries, but they each hooked it. Rackers' 52-yarder went right and Cunningham's 46-yarder went left in an intermittent rain.

""It wasn't the weather," Cunningham said. "I think Neil agrees with me on this. It's early and it's all about timing. We're still trying to get that golf swing down."

But LeBeau would like to have seen somebody tee it up.

"I was disappointed, we have to make those kicks," LeBeau said. "Again, that's nothing that will weigh against you, but it would have been a nice chance for someone to say, 'Hey coach, I can kick it in from here, no matter what the conditions are.' It didn't happen." . . .

OLB Adrian Ross banged up his shin, but he expects to practice Monday. . .With the projected 4-5-6 receivers (T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Ron Dugans, Danny Farmer) sitting out, Chad Plummer and Damon Griffin stepped up with forgotten quarterback Scott Covington. Covington, who took his first four snaps of camp Friday, naturally threw the longest pass of the day on a 20-yarder to Plummer. He added a 13-yarder to Griffin.

KEATON BUSTS OUT: With Dillon down, it gave second-year running back Curtis Keaton more time in his race with rookie Rudi Johnson and Michael Basnight to see who is backing up Dillon and Brandon Bennett. If they keep just one fullback and four total backs, that's going to be the last spot.

Keaton, a fourth-round pick, responded to lead all rushers with 33

yards on seven carries. He's always been fast, but he looks to be more decisive and less fancy. On an eight-yard run, he made a nifty move upfield instead of to the side to shrug off cornerback Carlton Gray.

"I think I take the game more seriously," Keaton said. "Last year, I was thinking too much. I wasn't instinctive at all. I was letting the offensive line make the holes."

LeBeau sees it, too.

"He's been looking all camp," LeBeau said. "He's quick. I was glad to see him be decisive, get upfield with the ball, and to maintain possession and ball security. These are things we preach with Curtis. We think if he gets the ball X amount of times, he's going to have some big plays. He's got great speed, he's elusive. I thought he functioned within the scheme of the offense very well. I was very pleased with that."

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