5-6-03, 5:55 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Kevin Kaesviharn underwent his transformation from cornerback to safety at this past weekend's minicamp and emerged dizzy but intact.
Intact enough that head coach Marvin Lewis has put him into the mix fulltime at a safety spot now teeming with competition, indicating the club's confidence in Kaesviharn's play-making abilities and the recovery of rookie cornerback Dennis Weathersby. Weathersby, shot in the back on Easter Sunday, is scheduled to have the bullet removed from his arm Thursday and reportedly continues to improve while confined to his suburban Los Angeles home.
"He sounded very good on the phone. He sounds strong," said secondary coach Kevin Coyle, who may be headed to visit Weathersby soon. "I think they just want to make sure he's replacing the blood he lost. I talked to him a few days ago and plan to talk to him (Tuesday). He sounds like he's getting better."
The drafting of Weathersby in the fourth round and the signing of free-agent Tory James has opened the door to move the 6-0, 192-pound Kaesviharn, last year's third cornerback, to a safety position that Lewis doesn't divide into free or strong.
"The two best safeties are going to play," Lewis said. "I think Kaesviharn is going to push all those guys. I think it's the best thing for our team. He can always play corner for us. He's a fine football player and we want to keep as many fine football players as we can keep around here. In my opinion, he's a safety."
Incumbent Jeff Burris mans the left corner while incumbent Artrell Hawkins duels with James on the right corner. Kaesviharn could also swing as the fifth corner because as Lewis said, "We drafted our fourth corner (in Weathersby)." But Lewis has also been impressed with the play of second-year man Reggie Myles.
"Football is football to me. After that first day, it started to come natural," said Kaesviharn of the switch. "It was tough initially because I was seeing it from a whole new perspective. Because you make the calls at safety, you have to know what everybody else is doing. When you're at corner, you just have to worry about you."
Kaesviharn, who turns 27 just before the season begins, has started just nine of his 26 NFL games the past two seasons, and already has five interceptions. The Bengals have been impressed with the play of No. 1 safeties Mark Roman and Marquand Manuel, but the five safeties on the roster besides Kaesviharn (Lamont Thompson, JoJuan Armour, Stephon Kelly) have combined for just two NFL interceptions. Hawkins has eight interceptions in 75 games, and four of Burris's 17 interceptions have come in the past two years. Kaesviharn has sold the new staff on his speed and athleticism and that the numbers say he is going to make a play if he gets his hands on it.
"We like the fact that Kaesviharn is a guy who has played the game and has been productive whenever he's played," Coyle said. "He's got very good ball skills and when you put him in the mix at safety, we've added another quality player there and are pushing the other guys."
The Bengals figure that the school teacher Kaesviharn isn't going to have a problem with the mental game, although he admitted the new chess moves had his mind spinning at the minicamp. Particularly as he tired to weed out the checks and blitzes and understand when he was supposed to rush and when he was supposed to stay. But he thinks the biggest question might end up being a physical one.
"I'll get used to the checks and calls," Kaesviharn said. "There are going to be more tackles and I guess there might be a question of durability. I could put on more weight, but that necessarily won't help me. We'll just have to wait and see. Coach Lewis just wants to get them on the ground and I know I can do that."
Kaesviharn figures the transition is going to be smoothed by the on-field coaching sessions that begin next Monday to prep the team for the June 9-11 mandatory minicamp.