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Safety redux

Chris Crocker

Chris Crocker, who turned 30 a week ago, and Roy Williams, who turns 30 during training camp, feel like they are primed. As the Bengals Opening Day safeties from last year they still feel like new kids in town after being teamed in only four games last season.

"I read this morning he re-signed. I'm happy for him," Crocker said Monday from Atlanta. "We played some of our best ball. We played some really good ball when Roy was healthy. This gives us a chance to get better as a group."

Both ended last season dinged. Williams (forearm) says he could have played in the last couple of games but was shelved while Crocker (ankle) gutted through that last game when he could have easily stayed on the shelf.  

Crocker, the secondary quarterback who does it all and Williams, the five-time Pro Bowl intimidator, never got a chance to do much together before Williams refractured his forearm in the week leading up to the fourth game.

Before that, the Bengals didn't allow a legit touchdown until late in the fifth quarter of the season after Williams led them with nine tackles in the opener. The duo combined for 14 tackles when the Bengals held the Steelers to a touchdown in the second half of a comeback win. And before Williams left for the last time Oct. 11 in the first half of the win in Baltimore, the Bengals didn't allow a touchdown until seven minutes left in a game Crocker had six tackles.

In those first three games they were also part of a secondary that blanked the Packers' Greg Jennings and held Denver's Brandon Marshall and Pittsburgh's Santonio Holmes to a combined five catches for 45 yards.

"We're a very good tandem," Williams said. "The way he can play the middle of the field. His instincts and ability as a quarterback on the field is really an asset for myself and everybody else on the field."

Crocker can line up at nickel cornerback and dole out some hits all the while communicating with the sidelines. He appreciates the presence of Williams lurking 221 pounds.

"We've got two different styles and that's good because you can't have everybody back there playing the game the same way," Crocker said of a secondary that now has the elite cornerback tag team of Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph. "Leon and J-Joe are different players, too, but they're effective. Roy's definitely an enforcer. He's taken a lot of guys down over the years. But I think the thing you really value back there with him is the experience he brings."

Not only that, but the experience he brings in this system. To find a secondary in the NFL that heads into a season with two starting cornerbacks that have played together for four years is rare and to find two safeties that have played for the same coordinator once before this stop is just as rare.

"It helps," Crocker said. "You can look at the guy next to you and know what he's going to do."

And Williams said he felt like the secondary bonded and became "tight." Even though he played just four games and Crocker missed the last three regular-season games with that ankle that left him less than 100 percent for the playoffs.

"I was very discouraged the way it ended," Crocker said. "My goal now is to play 16 games and if that means I have to take it slow with the ankle, I will. Dr. (Jim) Amis is a great doctor and he fixed it and I'm not looking for any setbacks."

Crocker said he had some repair surgery about eight and a half weeks ago and while he's not sure when he'll get back on the field in the spring, all indications are he'll be ready when the bell rings.

Meanwhile, Williams says his arm has healed. And he can still feel the vibes of September when he was healthy, as was Crocker. Not to mention right end Antwan Odom, the NFL sack leader when he got cut down in October with a ruptured Achilles.

"We proved that the first couple of weeks of the season," Williams said when asked how good the Bengals can be intact. "Everybody got to see the potential of our team. I really feel if we can stay healthy we'll be a contender again."

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