Sunday, March 11, 2001

Bengals focus on corner

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The first week of NFL free agency was a numbers game for the Bengals.

        Thirteen free agents visited Cincinnati, and the Bengals spent $20,000 on first-class airline tickets, hotel rooms and meals.

        The number the Bengals like best, though, is two. They signed two players, defensive tackle Tony Williams, formerly of Minnesota, and former Seattle quarterback Jon Kitna.

        “We got two good players. One's a sure starter, and one might be, depending on the quarterback competition,” Jim Lippincott, Bengals director of pro/college personnel, said Saturday. “We made a lot of contacts. It was an exciting, busy, productive week.”

        This week will be even busier at Paul Brown Stadium. The Ben gals have four more free agent visits scheduled, and third-year quarterback Akili Smith and a half dozen receivers will begin working out and meeting with new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.

        Smith, who has a DUI charge hanging over his head in San Diego, will meet at 10 a.m. Monday with Bratkowski and receivers Peter Warrick, LaVell Boyd and Chad Plummer. Damon Griffin, Ron Dugans and Craig Yeast should arrive later in the week. Weather permitting, they'll be working outside, too.

        Just as the Bengals focused on quarterbacks and defensive ends in the first week, the club will target another problem area — cornerback — during Week 2.

        After offensive lineman Ross Verba visits Monday, three free agent corners will come calling. The biggest name is former Tam pa Bay cornerback Rhone Barber, who will be joined by former San Diego Charger DeRon Jenkins on Tuesday. The next day, Walt Harris, formerly of the Bears, will visit.

        “They're all smart, quick corners,” Lippincott said. “They're young enough to play for several more years but experienced enough to provide leadership to our young corners.”

        Another former Bear, center Casey Weigmann, canceled his Monday visit.

        The Bengals entertained three defensive ends, another area of concern, Thursday and Friday: Kenny Holmes (Tennessee), Simeon Rice (Arizona) and Kevin Henry (Pittsburgh).

        The Bengals, who started free agency with a league-high $14.8 million under the salary cap, have an estimated $10 million left.


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