Herring been here before

3-23-04, 3:35 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The fallout of free agency (Troy Vincent to Buffalo, Bobby Taylor to Seattle) makes it look more and more like the Bengals are going to draft a cornerback with the first pick in next month's NFL Draft, and it's starting to look more and more like those old days in Baltimore to the Bengals newest starter in free safety Kim Herring.

"I played with a first-year corner and a second-year corner," said Herring of his third year playing for head coach Marvin Lewis' defense in Baltimore.

The next year, they all were on the greatest defense of all time and Herring recalls how it worked because Ravens head coach Brian Billick, "brought in guys like Rod Woodson who put it all together, and we played off each other. We all bought into not just Marvin's system, but we all bought into the way each other played."

We're not saying Herring is Rod Woodson. Heck, Herring is saying he's not Rod Woodson. But here's a guy who has played seven seasons in the NFL, has started in a Super Bowl each for the AFC and the NFC, and saw how Woodson solidified his young Ravens' secondary with that kind of experience.

The Bengals are looking for a veteran running mate for Herring at safety, and a league source outside the team said they got back in the Mark Roman derby Monday before Roman agreed to terms with Green Bay Monday night. Even though Roman started every game at free safety for them last year, the Bengals didn't have the gumption to go after him as hard as they've gone after their other starting safety in Rogers Beckett. They're apparently still talking to Beckett, as well as Brock Marion of the Dolphins, although the 33-year-old Marion may be too pricey at the moment.

There was some interest on both sides in Pro Bowler John Lynch before he went to Denver Monday, but his price didn't fit the Bengals' salary cap and his in-the-box style doesn't really fit Lewis' scheme. The Beckett situation should get resolved here pretty soon with the safety market starting to define itself with three (Roman, Lynch and Reggie Tongue to the Jets) getting deals done Monday.

Herring thinks he's a better fit here than he was in St. Louis the past three seasons because of how the Bengals use their safeties the way Lewis did in Baltimore and the way defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier did in Philadelphia.

"Interchangeable. Doing different things," Herring said. "In St. Louis, we stayed on one side of the field. There's nothing wrong with that. It's the standard defense. This way keeps the offense kind of confused. I like it better."

Herring sees more than the scheme that is familiar.

"I look at some of the guys who are here and that Marvin is bringing in and I'm thinking, 'This looks familiar,'" Herring said.

Why not? After Lewis helped draft Herring in the second round in 1997, he opted for cornerbacks in the first round the next two years in Duane Starks in 1998 and Chris McAlister in 1999. With last-year's fourth-rounder Dennis Weathersby penciled in for the first round before he got shot and the possible impending corner at No. 17 this year (is DeAngelo Hall climbing too high? Is 17 too high for Chris Gamble?), it looks like Lewis is developing the same kind of mix of rookies and veterans here.

"That's fine with me," Herring said. "Woodson was a funny dude to play with. I could tell you some stories about him. It wasn't about us being in awe of him. The best part of it was, surprisingly, is we listened to one another. We would switch off, do something else, and Marvin never had a problem with it because as long as we executed and did it right."

Herring knows Woodson is going to the Hall of Fame and Herring knows the closest he'll come to Canton is when he drives back home to visit his boyhood home in the Cleveland area. But he also thinks he can supply the mentor role like Woodson did. As someone pointed out Monday, Woodson hadn't started in two Super Bowls when he got to Baltimore like Herring has.

"I think I can do that. It's a matter of who else is coming along for the ride," Herring said. "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink, though. As long as we've got guys who are going to understand I'm not here to butt heads or step on anybody's toes."

Herring, really, has just one thing in mind.

"I didn't come here to lose," he said. "I look around and I can feel it. This city is ready to win. Be it in football or baseball, they're ready."

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