Perry, LeBeau re-unite

2-7-02, 1:35 p.m.

Updated: 2-7-02, 7:00 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

When you think of the Steelers' "Blitzburgh," defenses that dominated the NFL stats in the mid-1990s, you think of Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene and Rod Woodson.

Which is OK with former free safety Darren Perry, because he figures he lined up the Steelers for greatness even if you never heard of him.

"I guess you could say I was something like the computer chip that makes it go," Perry said with a laugh Thursday.

"I guess they liked my smarts. Those guys were great players. Everybody had a responsibility. My biggest responsibility was making the checks, getting everybody lined up, and making sure everybody is playing the coverages they're supposed to be playing."

The Bengals like Perry's smarts, too, as well as his knowledge of running their defense , and added him to their coaching staff Thursday to work with the safeties. Perry, 33, has no coaching experience after retiring from the Saints following the 2000 season. But he knows one coaching point he wants to hammer home immediately.

"Just looking at the numbers, I'd like to see more interceptions," said Perry, who had 33 of them during eight NFL seasons. "Our defenses were known for creating turnovers, and I can help. By stressing it. Making it important. Getting the guys to study and understanding where they fit it on the defense. Understanding the opponent, and getting them that much closer to the football to make a play on it."

Perry's association with Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau stretches back to when LeBeau drafted Perry in Pittsburgh in 1992. LeBeau coordinated off the field the NFL's top-ranked defense that Perry ran on the field for the Steelers on the way to Super Bowl XXX after the 1995 season.

LeBeau made Thursday's call without blinking about Perry's lack of coaching experience. He remembers another NFL defensive back who went right from playing to coaching in the league with no stops in between.

"When I took my first job, I hadn't coached at all. I had been playing, just like Darren," said LeBeau, who joined the Eagles' staff in 1973, the year after he retired from the Lions.

"Darren was a very good player , but a particularly smart player," LeBeau said. "As you coach, there are guys you say to yourself, 'This guy would make a good coach.' Darren is one of those guys."

It's believed cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle will undertake more responsibility in the secondary during his second year on the staff while Perry assists him. LeBeau said Perry's transition to coaching will be smoothed by the presence of Coyle and, "he'll have Dick LeBeau back there, too."

Jim Haslett, the former Bills linebacker who is now head coach of the Saints, said Perry has already been a coach on

the field and that there should be virtually no transition from player to coach for him. Haslett, who replaced LeBeau as the Steelers defensive coordinator, made sure he took Perry with him to New Orleans when Haslett became the head man in 2000.

After sitting out a year with a neck problem, Perry left the Steelers after seven seasons to help the Saints into the playoffs by starting all 16 games and finishing fourth on the team with 97 tackles and second with three interceptions.

"He won't have any problem coaching because he was already coaching on the field and teaching guys," Haslett said. "He knew the defense better than our coordinator did when we first got here. I think he was a reason we got out of the gate quickly down here. Not a great athlete. That's why he went in the eighth round, but he got all those interceptions on smarts and instincts.

"His biggest adjustment will be the work hours," Haslett said. "Players don't work as long as coaches. But Darren has made his money. This is something he doesn't have to do, but I think it's in his blood."

When he came out of Penn State in the eighth round in 1992, Perry's first position coach was LeBeau. So Perry has a pretty good idea what LeBeau wants.

"The biggest thing is getting the trust of your players and getting the guys to believe in what you're saying," Perry said. "A big part of that is knowing what you're talking about and knowing the system and having played the game. That's going to help me initially, but ultimately it's going to be able to get the players to respond to you and perform at a high level."

The Bengals looked at some college coaches who had experience, but Perry knew his best selling point was his intimate knowledge of LeBeau's zone-blitz defense. After all he, started 139 of 141 possible games in the scheme.

"I've played in this system, and I've learned the basics of it from the time I started playing in the NFL," Perry said. "Dick coached me through the system, and that was a big thing. Also, my playing experience. I made the calls, all the adjustments. I had to know it better than everyone out there."

Perry lives where he grew up in Chesapeake, Va.., with wife Erica and three daughters, ages 9, 6, and 2. Cincinnati looks familiar and good.

"I told my wife to think 'Pittsburgh,' because it looks exactly like it to me," Perry said. "I told her to get ready for the cold, but it looks like a great place to live."

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