Hobson's Choice: Speed on corner, but don't rush

Q: No disrespect to Tory James, but don't you think Johnathan Joseph should start over him immediately? Rookies have to get the experience sometime and he might as well get it right away. This could be our year to make a run for the Super Bowl, but if it is not he will be primed to play championship ball by next year if he gets some experience under his belt ASAP.**--Wade, Richmond, VA

First things first. There are concerns Georgia Tech defensive end Eric Henderson isn't on the Bengals' list of college free agents. It's because they have yet to receive his signed contact, so he's not on the official list. But he is expected for rookie camp this weekend.

As for James, couldn't disagree more. For those who lived through Artrell Hawkins, Charles Fisher, and Mark Roman, isn't it nice not to force feed a young corner?

Plus, secondary coach Kevin Coyle is convinced that James had a better year this past season than he did in his Pro Bowl year of '04. He admits James gave up some big plays, but what corner doesn't? At some point, you also have to factor in the injuries at safety and how that affected the play of the cornerbacks.

(True, Deltha O'Neal, the other cornerback, went to the Pro Bowl and the great stat on him heading into the playoffs was that he had yet to get beat on a pass longer than 25 yards.)

James turns 33 next week, but he doesn't have the tread of an 11-year vet because he's been a starter for only about four seasons. He's still got plenty going for him. In just three seasons in Cincinnati he already has as many interceptions as another LSU product on the Bengals' all-time interception list. James has 17, tied with safety Tommy Casanova at No. 5.

Man, how fast people forget the bad old days. Since James has arrived, he has had seasons of four, eight and five interceptions. Before he signed in 2003, the last corner to get at least four picks in a season was nickel back Corey Sawyer in 1997.

From 1998-2000, the Bengals drafted Hawkins, Fisher and Roman in the second round because they needed them to play right away. The jury will always be out on Fisher because he got hurt in the first quarter of his career.

But there's no telling how badly Hawkins' confidence got rocked in '98 when he had absolutely no one around him to help as the starter. The kid had all physical talent in the world, but it was a miserable way to break in, and you wonder how his career would have gone if he had the luxury to sit and learn behind guys like James and O'Neal.

Hey, if Joseph is as good as they think and they can't keep him off the field because he is simply better than James, go for it. But, let's face it, besides quarterback, corner may be the hardest position in the NFL for a rookie to make the transition from college.

That's the beauty of the pick now. They don't have to rush him and destroy his confidence.

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