Hello, Newman

2-24-04, 10:20 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

INDIANAPOLIS_ A trade looks impossible.

The quarterbacks looked good Sunday, but no one went lights out to make themselves a drop dead No. 1 pick. Some teams thought Michigan State wide receiver Charlie Rogers looked closer to 6-2 than 6-4. The defensive linemen are Warren Sapp-like, but aren't Warren Sapp.

What now for the Bengals with the No. 1 pick?

Hello, Newman.

As in Terence Newman, the Kansas State cornerback who maybe isn't all that small at 5-10 ("and change") and 189 pounds when he weighed in Sunday here at the NFL combine. There are some with the Bengals thinking Newman is the best player on the board as the draft's best cover corner, a three-time Big 12 sprint champion, and a special teams linchpin that played more than 130 snaps in his last college game.

For a team that gave up an AFC-worst 30 touchdown passes and finished last in one special teams ranking, Newman takes out a few birds with one pick.

"We thought he was the best player we saw all year," said Texas quarterback Chris Simms.

Yet many NFL personnel people here this past week felt like this AFC general manager: "Newman is a great player, but the Bengals have to take a quarterback."

And even that's not clear-cut because he's one that believes Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich is ahead because his track record is longer and better than what some see as the one-year wonder of USC quarterback Carson Palmer. If they end up with Newman, the buzz says, it's only because they traded out of No. 1.

Newman and Palmer form a mutual admiration society after playing each other the past two seasons. Newman calls him the best quarterback in the draft. So what does Newman think the Bengals should do in this game of Monopoly with live ammunition? Take the quarterback or the cornerback at No. 1? Boardwalk or Park Place?

"That's a dilemma," Newman said. "They've got Jon Kitna as the starter. They've struggled with quarterbacks and they've struggled with cornerbacks. If I was a Bengal, I'd pick me."

His last-minute decision to work out Monday in the RCA Dome may indicate a guy seeing a crack at the top of the draft. He says, "There is no clear-cut," top pick and he's looking to apply some pressure to the prospects ranked ahead of him.

"That's the plan," Newman said. "I'm looking at it as I see myself in the middle of the pack and I'm trying to move up."

Newman has been used to doing that his whole life. Ever since he found out he could run fast while fleeing from even from the small dog in his Salina, Kan., neighborhood.

"I wasn't the biggest guy on the street," Newman said. "It looked like a big wolf to me."

He was only 150 pounds coming out of high school and he didn't even have to turn side ways to get lost on the recruiting lists. Only Kansas State, Kansas, and Tulsa knocked. He got a slew of offers for track, but he considers football his job, and track merely a hobby. He says he "dabbles," in track, but his dabbling ended up in back-to-back 100-meter Big 12 championships and a conference title in the indoor 60 meters.

Speed is another reason he changed his mind and opted to work Monday. "I've got nothing to lose. . .I'm going to try and put on a show."

He's trying to break 4.4 seconds in the 40 and for a guy who once clocked a 4.22, he should fly on the notoriously slow dome track that hasn't been so slow this past week.

"Everybody has been running fast, so that old myth the agents run around for years, (they) have to come up with a new one," said Bills President Tom Donahoe. "Offensive linemen are running 4.8 and 4.9."

With the 5-11 Nate Clements, and the 5-9, 180-pound Antoine Winfield as his very effective starting cornerbacks, Donahoe thinks Newman is plenty big enough. New Bengals defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is looking for big, physical corners, but Palmer said Newman had his hands all over his receivers pushing them around at the line of scrimmage.

"All teams are looking for tall receivers because they know there's a lack of tall corners," Newman said. "The corners are trying to make up (for lack of size) . . .with speed and jumping ability."

Newman has. Just ask Simms. "I thought I threw a ball over him, but then (he picked it off) with that 44-inch vertical leap."

Newman figures he averaged more than 75 snaps per Saturday because he also played wide receiver in close games, and he always played every special teams. He returned punts and kicks while also playing on the coverage teams. He said he didn't play in last month's Senior Bowl because he lost about five pounds to 182 in his 130-snap finale and wanted to put his body back together. He got as high as 195 before showing up this week at 189.

Another thing about picking Newman. It may exorcise the Bengals' demons of turning down New Orleans' offer of eight draft choices for the right to draft Akili Smith at No. 3 in 1999. At the very least, they would have ended up with Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey, a 6-foot, 192-pounder. If you can't have Bailey, get a guy like him. That's a player to whom Newman has been compared because of his versatility even though "he's got a bigger frame."

"Versatility goes a long way, especially in this draft," Newman said. "A versatile guy is a bigger stock than a guy who can do just one thing."

Which is another thing for the Bengals to think about.

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