Manuel labor

6-4-02, 3:05 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Marquand Manuel doesn't make many mistakes. He can't. Not with that good-ol-boy ghost named Steve Spurrier hovering over him.

"He was on me all the time," Manuel recalled of his head coach at the University of Florida the other day for bengals.com on audio. "I had to be right 100 percent of the time. Most players could make a mistake, but not me. I had to be right 100 percent."

Finally, the Bengals' sixth-round draft choice had to explain himself to his new secondary coaches during last month's drills. He told them why he had been peppering them with every question in the book about the playbook.

"Because I can't make mistakes," Manuel said. "I can't have a 'what if?,' on the field."

But he keeps asking, 'what now?,'all of which delights the men working with him in safeties coach Darren Perry and cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle. As they sent him out the door for a long weekend a few weeks back, Coyle suggested Manuel take a look at a packet of pass coverage checks.

"When he came back a few days later, he asked me if I had made a mistake on page such-and-such and he was exactly right," Coyle said. "I had put one coverage in the wrong color code. I love that he found it.

"He doesn't make very many mistakes for a young guy," Coyle said. "He's much further ahead than what a typical rookie would be from a mental standpoint. That's just the way he is if you looked at what he's achieved in the classroom (four-time SEC academic selection) you know he's a worker. You give him information and he won't just look at it. He'll study and come back at you with it."

With Manuel and second-rounder Lamont Thompson, the Bengals feel they may have chosen their safety tandem of the future. Manuel is backing up JoJuan Armour at strong safety and Thompson is penciled in at fourth-team free safety only because he decided not to practice last month because of a dispute with the team over injury protection. He began doing some light individual drills and running the last two days.

The way the Bengals zone blitz, the safety spot is interchangeable and one day Manuel and Thomson probably will be, too. Coyle has been particularly impressed with how Thompson is picking up the Xs and Os as he begins

his third week here and how he has involved himself this week. The Bengals don't have a team workout until training camp opens July 25, but many rookies are coming in and out of Paul Brown Stadium to work out and spend time in the classroom.

As Coyle and Perry juggle their vacations, one of them will be around most of the time to help the rookies. Coyle is doing the Xing and Oing this week. Manuel isn't here this week, but will be next week. Thompson, who missed the first five days during the dispute, has stayed over and won't leave until late next week.

Coyle has been taking the tape cutups of the past month's team drills, complete with the practice scripts, and is quizzing the rookies. When the offense lines up, Coyle freezes the tape and asks the players to make the call as well as coverage checks and adjustments.

"You could tell just today compared to yesterday how quickly Lamont is picking it up," Coyle said. "Through the fault of no one, he's behind and he's got a ways to go to learn the defense. But it's obvious he took the stuff home, studied, wrote it down, and came in well prepared."

When the secondary has gone on the field this week, Thompson has done the same footwork drills as everyone else, along with running and some walk-through situations. Coyle hopes he'll pick up some of Manuel's outgoing chatter. During May, he stalked the Bengals' defense like a candidate works a $100-a-plate dinner.

"To play the position, you've got to be a guy who will communicate with a sense of authority back there," Coyle said. "If you're not confident, you have a tendency not to talk real loud. Marquand is a confident guy, you can see that watching g practice. Screaming, yelling, making calls. We've got to get Lamont to that point where he can do the same things. And he will. He was in the background for the first few weeks, but now that he's been able to see some things, he's starting to communicate things."

There could be 18 reasons for Manuel's effusiveness. He's one of 18 children in his parents' blended family.

"I think about it's like having 18 friends," Manuel said.

His 19th friend, Bengals defensive captain Takeo Spikes, gave him the heads up right away. The last Florida safety to play here was the voluble Lawrence Wright.

"He told me to forget the talking. . .the only talking I'll do is between the whistles," Manuel said. "I'm here to do my job."

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