Lewis feels pressure

4-26-04, 9:20 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

After the dust cleared on this 11-player draft Sunday and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was asked how it will be remembered, he talked about the production and athleticism. But he knows who has to make it happen.

"It puts pressure on myself and the rest of the

coaches' shoulders to coach these guys up," Lewis said. "We get a chance to shape them and teach them how to be pros."

Lewis is looking for any kind of an edge and found one in the background of most of the 11.

"Look at where these guys grew up and where they played," Lewis said. "Football is important. We need to have more and more guys here that way."

Lewis also likes the fact he got a few semi-hometowners, guys that have family close by. Guys like Florida cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, who played his high school ball in the Columbus area and made it to Paul Brown Stadium for a news conference in two hours Sunday.

"After the game, a lot of my teammates would go home with their families," said Ratliff of playing at the University of Florida. "I would do that and go home with some of my closer friends and their family. Now I've got a chance to be with my family. You feel more comfortable with your Mom in the stands, knowing your brother is in the stands. The people you love are getting a chance to go through this wonderful experience with you."

Late Sunday, Lewis was also wondering what might have been about another local. The Bengals are big admirers of Miami of Ohio quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and aren't very comfortable with him in the same division.

"It was a year early," said Lewis, theorizing that Roethlishberger might have ended up with the Bengals if they were in this quarterback hunt instead of last year's Carson Palmer derby. But he's very pleased with Palmer, and thinks he also would have been rated No. 1 in this draft.

With the four extra picks, the Bengals will be allocated the proper money in the rookie pool to account for one extra pick in the second round, an extra in the third, and two extra in the fourth. By picking 26th, the Bengals would have been allocated about $3 million for the seven regular picks.

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CENTERING IT:** The one spot the Bengals didn't address was a young center to groom behind 11-year veteran Rich Braham. They had Jake Grove and Justin Smiley targeted at the top of the second round, but they didn't fall. Lewis didn't seem worried, saying only, "We have a plan," that

could include a post-June 1 move or claiming somebody off waivers. Lewis indicated a center could be signed in college free agency this week, as well as a punter, quarterback, guard, and wide receiver. But Lewis did say he felt both offensive and defensive lines were "fine." Right now, Thatcher Szalay, who has yet to play in a game as he heads into his third season, is the backup. Also on the roster is second-year Mike Mabry, assigned to NFL Europe after the Bengals picked him up off waivers from the Ravens late last season.

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STUDY GUY:** Bengals second-rounder Keiwan Ratliff, who is going to wear No. 25, has a style that secondary coach Kevin Coyle has

compared to NFL veteran cornerback Ronde Barber. But Ratliff has spent a lot of time studying other NFL corners with his college buddy Guss Scott, Florida's safety.

Ratliff and Scott spent up to three days a week getting in about an hour of extra tape work.

"I'd look at guys like Ty Law, Charles Woodson, Champ Bailey," Ratliff said. "I like the way Law uses his hands at the line of scrimmage and the way Woodson plays the ball in the air. I watch how Champ just gets physical with people. That's something I'm really trying to show, that I can play that physical game."

Coyle is extremely impressed with Ratliff's mental approach to the game, calling him one of the most bright and aware prospects he interviewed this offseason.

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FOURTH ROUND:** The Bengals opted for defensive line help with their first two picks Sunday, tapping Michigan State tackle Matthias Askew with the 114th pick and then Georgia defensive end Robert Geathers at 117. The 6-5, 310-pound Askew has been projected as a possible first-rounder if he stayed in school another year. The 6-3, 270-pound Geathers, whose father and uncle played in the NFL, is just 20 years old. . .

With their last pick in the fourth round at 123, the Bengals went for Mississippi tackle Stacy Andrews. The 6-6, 339-pound Andrews is a huge, strong guy who didn't play high school football and only 70 snaps in college. But he's fast and strong and holds three Ole Miss records for throwing in a track career that could have taken him to the Olympics if he chose. . .

Askew has loads of ability, but he hasn't been consistent and the ESPN crew openly challenged his effort when the Bengals selected him.

"I'm going to prove to everybody I'm a quality player and I play hard every play," Askew said. I'm going to what everybody has been saying is wrong. Once you get to know me, they'll see the true Matthias Askew."

Defensive line coach Jay Hayes said Askew has a variety of moves, but one of the issues he'll have to solve is playing too high: "We'll get him in the chutes."

Geathers played 39 games in college, but said he wasn't comfortable with how things were going at Georgia and opted to come out early. The Bengals think he may be able to play both ends, but he'll probably get his first shot on the pass-rushing side.

Andrews went out for football in the ninth grade and although he liked it, he was too into basketball to make it work. But at 340 pounds, he can still dunk, which tells you what kind of athlete he is.

"He's a first-round athlete," said offensive line coach Paul Alexander.

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FIFTH ROUND:*The Bengals took 6-1, 190-pound wideout Maurice Mann out of Nevada. Mann jumped on the draft boards with a 168-yard day against Washington. He missed four games because he misused a school account to ship furniture, but he said Sunday that he had paid the money back. He had 17 yards per catch and has an intriguing blend of size and speed and excelled in track in high school before he went to junior college for two years. He'll be pushing T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Kevin Walter for the last roster spots at receiver. *

SIXTH ROUND:*The Bengals picked up their second cornerback of the draft with 5-10, 175-pound Greg Brooks of Southern Mississippi. Brooks isn't big, but he is supposed to have good coverage and ball skills. He had three interceptions and 12 pass breakups this past season, and had two as a junior, along with a blocked field goal. He's the third defensive back (Ratliff and Williams) that the Bengals coached against in the Senior Bowl. . . *

SEVENTH ROUND:** The Bengals selected what may end up being their third quarterback in Wyoming's Casey Bramlet and pretty much erases veteran Shane Matthews from the picture. Bramlet is 6-3, 228 pounds, and has thrown 46 touchdown passes the last two seasons. He had five 300-yard games in '03 and maybe the most important thing is his interceptions have steadily dropped from 20 in 2001 to 18 in 2002 to nine last year.

"He's a very tough kid, a very good competitor," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "He didn't play on that great of a team, but he hung in there, took a lot of shots and was still very productive."

DE JA VU: The Bengals' first fourth-round pick, Michigan State tackle Matthias Askew, saw plenty of first-rounder Chris Perry when Perry set a Michigan record with 51 carries against

Michigan State. They even got into a "dispute," as Askew remembers it.

"We let each other know we were coming. Everybody gets cocky," said Askew, who made eight tackles that day. "He knew he was running and I knew I was making tackles. We let each other know we were going to keep coming. . .He runs with a lot of power. He's going to make some moves in the NFL. Half the time I was getting double teamed and getting cut, and I'm playing 83 snaps. (I'm thinking) all he's doing is running two plays. Either the stretch or the lead draw. He keeps his legs moving. He sees a big man coming, he lowers his shoulder to get up under you." . . .

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