Rookies eye first NFL starts

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Rookie left cornerback Mark Roman makes his first NFL start Sunday against Jacksonville's pair of 1,000-yard receivers to become the ninth different starting corner for the Bengals the past two seasons.

Bengals coach Dick LeBeau also indicated that rookie wide receiver Danny Farmer is in line for his first NFL start if Craig Yeast's bruised shoulder doesn't respond this week. As it is, rookie receiver Peter Warrick looks to be the starting punt returner Sunday in Yeast's spot.

Bengals coach Dick LeBeau demoted two starters Wednesday after they had already been benched earlier this season when he sat down cornerback Tom Carter and left tackle Rod Jones following their performances in Sunday's 35-3 loss in Tennessee.

Left tackle John Jackson, the 13-year veteran who hasn't played since re-aggravating a hamstring pull in Dallas Nov.12, gets the nod in front of Jones for the second time this year.

Rookie Robert Bean, who replaced Carter in the starting lineup after Troy Aikman threw for 308 yards against the Bengals in that 23-6 loss to Dallas, is doubtful for Sunday with a hyperextended knee.

The Carter benching means the return of cornerback Artrell Hawkins to the starting lineup on the right side after he was demoted to nickel back following the 31-16 loss to Miami Oct. 1.

Jones, who has struggled since signing a three-year, $9 million contract extension back in February, had trouble with backup Titans end Henry Ford as Tennessee held Cincinnati's top-ranked running game to 60 yards rushing.

The Bengals' secondary has struggled mightily since Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer lit them up for 244 passing yards in a 27-7 loss Nov. 5.

In those last six games, opposing quarterbacks have an astonishing 123.9 passer's rating on third down: 44-for-63, 554 yards, five touchdowns, no interceptions. Plus, the Bengals have allowed 18 passes of 20 yards or more in those six games. Carter has been called for 11 holding or pass interference calls this season.

Roman, a second-round pick out of LSU, gets a tough baptism. Jaguars receivers Jimmy Smith (82 catches) and Keenan McCardell (79) are sixth and seventh in AFC receiving, respectively.

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