BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ After a 17-day holdout, rookie cornerback Mark Roman finally found his way to the Bengals locker room today and got dropped off in a golf cart.
He ran up to the first coach he saw, Tim Krumrie of the defensive line, shook his hand, and asked him where to go. When Krumrie tried to explain who he was and that if he was looking for his coach he should. . .but Roman cut him off excitedly.
"I know who you are, Coach. How you doing?" Roman said. "Where do I go? When do I start?"
Roman admitted today he starts behind. Probably behind two rookie corners in fifth-rounder Robert Bean and free agent Brian Gray. But he says it was worth being the last non first-round holdout in the NFL. His agent, Joel Segal, said the stalemate proves what a tough-minded player they're getting in the former LSU defensive back who started four seasons. Segal recalled Roman's response when the Bengals suggested they might start slicing the signing bonus if he didn't sign late this week.
"He's different than most kids his age," Segal said. "You know what he said? He said, 'That's OK. I won't do a deal that's not fair.' He was cool, calm, collected all the way through and approached it in a very businesslike manner."
The big gripe had been over getting Roman to market value (about $780,000 annual average) for the third pick in the second round without using voidable years. That concept was used by all the players drafted around Roman that included Segal client Todd Pinkston of the Eagles. The Bengals compromised by giving Roman his $1.34 million in one lump sum in the four-year deal, allowing his minimum salaries to bump each year to the minimum salary of that specific year. The Bengals got what they wanted when $325,000 of the deal can be earned only if Roman plays in 60 percent of the downs in years two, three, and four.
"We avoided the voidable deal," said Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn. "I don't take pride in not getting a voidable deal, it's just that we don't think it's necessary or appropriate. The play time was important. Sixty percent is about what a third corner plays and if he plays, he gets a little more money. If he doesn't, he should be happy with what he's got."
Roman is happy with what he's got and pledged he has no animosity toward the team. Even after practicing with oh hours of sleep because Segal called at midnight to inform him of the deal and the Bengals put him on a 6 a.m. flight out of Baton Rouge, an hour away from his home in New Iberia, La.
"I've got to play with this team," Roman said. "This team is my home for the next four years. I paid my agent so he can have a bad relationship with them."
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So far, Roman has a good relationship with secondary coach Ray Horton. That's because he had a hard time fouling up, since the Bengals' afternoon practice got cut by about 45 minutes because of a thunderstorm.
"He had all of about 25 minutes of practice," Horton said. "He had about 20 plays. About six plays running our stuff and on scout team he took 14. He was OK. He didn't drop any passes. He was functional. He didn't fall down. He retained the coverages. He's a bright kid."
The 5-11 Roman came in right on his weight at about 188 pounds and the coaches could tell he's been working out. Horton hopes to get him in for a quarter or a quarter and a half in this Friday's preseason game in Atlanta.
"I've been working out the past three weeks, but when you put on pads, now you've got to get into football shape," Roman said after wearing shoulder pads for the first time since January's East-West Shrine all-star game. "You can be in good shape, but not in pads."
But the Bengals aren't concerned with the physicalness of a guy who rang up 15 tackles against Auburn in his second college start as a freshman free safety. The concern is he's played just six games at cornerback.
"I think I can learn it," Roman said. "It's more about technique. It's more mental than physical. I'll always be learning about my positions. Veterans are still learning stuff. I'll probably never think I know everything about playing cornerback in the NFL. But I know enough right now that I can play NFL football." Roman liked the feel of the Kentucky rain. "Down in Louisiana, the weather's a whole lot worse," Roman said. "It might be 100 degrees, but it's 120 with the heat index and the humidity. Take a break and sit in the shade and you still sweat." You don't have to tell Roman, the veteran of four SEC seasons and now a veteran of a 17-day holdout. He knows it's going to get pretty hot in Atlanta on Friday.