Weathersby convinces Bengals

4-27-03, 3 p.m

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Oregon State cornerback Dennis Weathersby, shot in the back Easter Sunday in his hometown of Duarte, Calif., has made enough of a recovery for the Bengals to take with the first pick in the fourth round Sunday.

The Bengals began the last day of the NFL Draft with their first defensive pick of the weekend, tapping the 6-1, 204-pound Weathersby despite the shooting. He didn't require surgery and the major question facing the club was his loss of blood.

He fits the big cornerback profile defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier seeks, along with the ability to run. He ran 4.38 seconds at the scouting combine, and although he had just one interception last year, he was named All Pac 10 and started all four years. His main attribute is man-to-man coverage, and Frazier is tilting the Bengals' philosophy to press skills.

He said he lost half his blood, but he is out of the hospital and resting at home. He's looking at a two-month recovery, but should be ready for training camp.

"We checked it out medically as well as the criminal element and are satisfied," Frazier said.

Weathersby has never been arrested and police are theorizing he was the victim of gang violence. He believes he was the victim of tensions among the African-American and Latino communities in the area that is near the Rose Bowl, about 10 miles from Pasadena.

"A lot of things were going through my mind," said Weathersby when he heard shots as he climbed into his truck to go to an Easter picnic. "Hope I didn't die. Hope I'd be able to walk."

The Bengals used their second pick in the fourth round to take Western Kentucky fullback Jeremi Johnson. In the fifth round, they took Mars Hill outside linebacker Khalid Abdullah. Defensive tackle Langston Moore out of South Carolina, a 6-1, 300-pound run stopper, went in the sixth round.

Weathersby probably would have gone in at least the second round if not for the incident and some,

such as ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., had him projected as a first-rounder.

He is the third potential first-rounder to fall to the Bengals this weekend. It began Saturday when the Bengals grabbed versatile Iowa offensive lineman Eric Steinbach at the top of the second round and then continued with Tennessee wide receiver Kelley Washington in the third round.

Lewis spoke with Weathersby for 20 minutes after the third round Saturday night and again Sunday morning before the draft resumed. Frazier spoke with him several times Saturday and Sunday.

Even the day before he got shot, secondary coach Kevin Coyle spent time with him on the phone as the Bengals anticipated maybe taking him with the 33rd pick at the top of the second round.

Because of their many ties to Oregon State, the Bengals had already been spending the previous weeks checking out Weathersby and they had been pleased. Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has worked with former Oregon State head coach Dennis Erickson, and wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson played with him.

They heard about a guy who was a National Honor Society student in high school, just the fourth player in Pac-10 history to be All-Academic four years, and a guy who got his degree in December in liberal studies. On Sunday, Erickson went on ESPN and said Weathersby had never been in trouble and that the Bengals were lucky to have him.

"He's not a gang guy or anything like that. We're 100 percent sure of that," Lewis said. "He graduated from college, he's been an honor student in college. He's been an honor student in high school. He was a freshman starter at Oregon State. He's a guy that's played a lot. So, we don't want to read into that because he may be different than some people in his upbringing and that's what we've been able to research."

According to one his agents, Steve Caric, the bullet went through his back, underneath his lung, out his torso, and entered his left arm between the bicep and elbow. He'll get the bullet removed Tuesday in what Caric calls a procedure as routine as taking off a mole.

One of the reasons Lewis felt comfortable taking Weathersby is that he can't be here in May anyway because Oregon State graduates June 15. The doctors say he'll be cleared for full contact in six to eight weeks, which makes him a possibility for the June mandatory minicamp. He can start his rehab in about 10 days.

Chad Johnson, who played a year with Weathersby, was shocked to hear of the shooting.

"Just a real quiet guy. I maybe talked to the dude three times when I was there," Johnson said. "He's not like that at all. I tell you what, the guy can play. It's a steal for us."

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