Wednesday, September 05, 2001

Bengals think Keaton can bust return

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Curtis Keaton had a short audition as the Bengals' kickoff returner as a rookie, running back six kicks for a 16.7-yard average.

        Keaton, a second-year running back from Division II James Madison, received a longer look this preseason and averaged 19.8 yards on nine returns.

        With Corey Dillon seeing limited action, Keaton was the team's leading preseason rusher with 212 yards on 40 carries.

        That combination was enough to unseat former Pro Bowl kickoff returner Tremain Mack when final cuts were made Sunday. Keaton landed at No.3 on the depth chart at tailback behind Dillon and Brandon Bennett.

        “Curtis has the ability to break plays,” coach Dick LeBeau said. “He's very quick and he's fast.”

        The Bengals drafted Keaton in the fourth round in 2000 after he gained 1,719 yards with 20 rushing touchdowns as a senior.

        At 5 feet 10 and a beefed- up 219 pounds, he's unlike any other tailback on the roster. He's a classic, make-you-miss quick back; Dillon, Bennett and rookie fourth-stringer Rudi Johnson are as likely to run over defenders as run past them.

        “I truly believe God has blessed me with the talent to make things happen,” said Keaton, who played in six games as a rookie, a season hampered by an ankle injury.

        Special teams coach Al Roberts praised the way Keaton protects the ball.

        But it was not easy for the Bengals to cut Mack, who was a member of the AFC Pro Bowl team following a 1999 season in which he averaged a franchise-record 27.1 yards on kickoff returns. He dropped to a 20.7-yard average in 2000, had only a 15-yard average on three preseason returns and was beaten out by JoJuan Armour at backup safety.


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