Updated: 6:20 p.m.
Terence Newman may turn 34 the third week of this season and he may be six years removed from playing his last snap for Mike Zimmer.
But Zimmer, the Bengals defensive coordinator who welcomed Newman into the fold Wednesday, is adamant that Newman could make as much of an impact at cornerback as he did when Zimmer and the Cowboys took him with the fifth pick in the 2003 draft.
"If he can still run and get out of breaks, I know he can do some big things for us in this defense," Zimmer said. "I don't know what's happened lately, but all I know is I've talked to enough people in Dallas that I trust that say he can still run. And I'm talking to people who saw him every day in practice and that means more to me than anything. We'll see how he is when he gets here, but I'm excited to have him."
The 5-10, 193-pound Newman is used to starting and playing plenty of snaps. He has started 131 of his 133 NFL games (second only to fellow cornerback Nate Clements on the Bengals) and is coming off a season Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis computes he took about 78 percent of the snaps. Newman took 829 snaps. The only corner that took more on the Bengals last season was Clements with 950, according to profootballfocus.com.
Clements and Leon Hall may be the starters on the now mythical depth chart (it won't be released until July), but with five first-round cornerbacks now lodged in the secondary, who is going to tell any of them they're not starting? With Jason Allen and Adam Jones joining Newman, Clements and Hall as former first-rounders, the Bengals are hoping they won't have to hurry Hall's comeback from a ruptured Achilles even though he's on schedule to be on the field at the start of training camp.
"He comes here as another guy you add to the competition with the guys we have," Lewis said of Newman. "I don't think he's coming here to play 50 (percent of the snaps). He's coming here because he wants to play 100 percent of the snaps. To come to a team he feels like can get him back to the playoffs and further his career and help us win. It's selfish on our part, selfish on his part. At end of the day we've got a mutual view of where we want to end up."
Newman took heat in Dallas this past season for having guys run by him, such as the Giants' Victor Cruz. Prootballfocus.com rated Newman 57th out of 66 corners that played at least 50 percent of the snaps in giving up three TDs and a passer rating of 88.4.
But one long-time Cowboys observer said Newman played as well as he ever did early in the season after he missed the first two games with a groin injury and that's pretty good because he went to Pro Bowls in 2007 and 2009. And that's after he worked with Zimmer, a stretch Newman has told Lewis he played the best ball of his career.
Zimmer is excited to be back with Newman and you have to feel Newman is going to have a prominent role given the pair's relationship. It should make for a heated training camp. The Bengals usually keep six cornerbacks and along with the five first-rounders there are veterans Brandon Ghee and Rico Murray, as well as the potential for a corner to be taken in the draft.
"He's a tremendous person and a good competitor; a great guy for our locker room and organization," Zimmer said. "He's excited. I'm excited. This is where he wanted to be. I'm not sure what he's been told the last couple of years, but I'm confident we can get him back on track doing what he does best."
And Zimmer doesn't limit Newman. He says when Newman is at his best "he does everything well," which means he can press, play off, and go in the slot.
The Bengals not only play the Cowboys (at Paul Brown Stadium), but everyone else in the NFC East this season and while Lewis says that should help Newman, what will really help him is playing in the familiar confines of Zimmer's system. It will be recalled that Newman visited Lewis's first minicamp with the Bengals that year the same day as USC quarterback Carson Palmer when the Bengals mulled the first pick. And it was either Palmer or Newman, and Newman's brains and 5-10, 193-pound size gave Lewis pause.
"Pretty much. We would have probably moved back to take (Newman)," said Lewis, who, like Zimmer, thinks the 33-year-old Newman has plenty left. "He's a guy that has played at an extremely high level and still has athleticism and speed to play. ... This is a guy that has legitimate skins on the wall. He has long levers. You put a corner together, they're going to look similar to Terence. "He's a smart guy. He's a pro. He's played a lot of snaps. He's been relatively healthy. When you meet him he's a very impressive guy."