Hobson's Choice: Down on the corner

I know everyone is watching the competition at reciever but i was wondering what's going to happen in the secondary. with the way they played last year as rookies could someone like a kewain ratliff have a shot at one of the starting cornerback spots. thanks
CORNER: You have to believe that Tory James and Deltha O'Neal are intact for at least another year and James is playing a lot younger than the 32 years he turned in the May minicamps. (He is the first Bengal to intercept at least a dozen passes in back-to-back seasons since Pro Bowl safety David Fulcher in 1989-90 after last year's career-high eight.) But Ratliff showed as a rookie in 2004 that he's a more-than-worthy third cornerback, a future starter at some point, and that he could start on a slew of teams right now.

The real spots to watch this year are the Nos. 4 and 5 behind their most solid three corners since wouldn't you say? the Super Bowl trio of Eric Thomas, Lewis Billups, and Ray Horton.

You've also got guys like Rashad Bauman (the No. 3 corner before he hurt his Achilles' last season), Greg Brooks (the '04 sixth-rounder they love even though he missed his entire rookie year), and Reggie Myles and Terrell Roberts, the Nos. 4 and 5 corners from the past several seasons who are trying to play safety.

Plus, there's newcomer Brandon Williams, a second-year corner who has yet to take an NFL snap. But he did enough good things in the spring camps (like run a sub 4.3-second 40-yard dash) to make things interesting at Georgetown.

And, don't forget, free safety Madieu Williams has excellent corner skills after surviving a tough baptism at that spot before having a Rookie of the Year-type season at safety once the injured O'Neal came back.

Madieu Williams and backup safety Kevin Kaesviharn can play all four spots in the secondary. Myles or Roberts or maybe both figure to join them as guys that can possibly play both. With three corner-safeties, that could allow them to keep just nine DBs with five corners and four safeties.

Remember when the pundits howled that Ratliff didn't have the speed to go No. 49 in the 2004 draft? But he is living proof corners can live on brains, instincts, and hands. Plus, he comes up and hits you and they love the way he blitzes out of the slot and elsewhere on third down.

So you'll see Ratliff plenty even though James and O'Neal are intact and there will be some snaps they'll keep Madieu Williams on the field as a third corner. Age would seem to dictate that Ratliff replaces James before the 28-year-old O'Neal.

But James is the Rolling Stone of this crew and gets better with age. He's got one more year in Cincy after this season, when he joins a raft of starters whose contracts are up after 2006. The presence of a Ratliff helps them there (do you re-sign a 34-year-old corner?), but James has a lot of tread left because 46 of his 53 NFL starts and 16 of his 30 interceptions have come in the last three seasons. They are certainly glad they have him in '05 and '06.

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