Tuesday, September 03, 2002

DBs urged to feast on turnovers

Preseason pace not acceptable

By Mark Curnutte, mcurnutte@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Defensive coordinator Mark Duffner talked with the Bengals' defensive backs Monday morning before practice. He said he wasn't happy with the number of interceptions — three — in four preseason games.

        “We're tired of talking about it,” said Bengals cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle, who repeated the message to his players. “It has to start happening.”

    Matchup: San Diego Chargers at Bengals
   When: 1 p.m. Sunday
   Where: Paul Brown Stadium
        The preseason pace would result in just 12 interceptions over the 16-game regular season. Last year, the Bengals had just 13 interceptions, even though they set a franchise record of 48 sacks. The league average was 17.6 interceptions.

        In an attempt to improve production, the Bengals overhauled their secondary Sunday when mandatory cuts reduced the roster to 53. Five of the nine DBs on the opening day roster weren't with the Bengals a year ago.

        Gone are safeties Chris Carter and Darryl Williams, and cornerbacks Tom Carter, Robert Bean and Rodney Heath. Carter and Williams each had one interception last season, but the departed cornerbacks had none.

        Back from the 2001 season opener are starting cornerback Artrell Hawkins, and safeties Cory Hall, JoJuan Armour and Mark Roman.

        Hall is the starting strong safety, which concentrates more on stopping the run. Roman, who played cornerback last year, has kick-started his career by moving to free safety, where he is challenging for the starting job.

        Jeff Burris, an unrestricted free agent signed from the Indianapolis Colts, starts on the other corner.

        The other players opening a season with the Bengals for the first time are rookie safeties Lamont Thompson and Marquand Manuel, and cornerbacks Kevin Kaesviharn and Bo Jennings, who were signed as free agents after the secondary was hit with injuries last October.

        “They've got to get more interceptions out of the safety position,” said Jim Lippincott, Bengals director of football operations.

        The Bengals had as many interceptions from rookie defensive end Justin Smith (two) as they did from their safeties combined.

        “Lamont Thompson has the ability to change some of that,” Lippincott said of the second-round draft pick, who led the nation with 10 at Washington State a year ago.

        The Bengals have some lofty defensive goals for 2002. Among them are 37 takeaways, a combination of interceptions and fumble recoveries.

        An ability to force turnovers went into Sunday's personnel decisions.

        Hawkins had a career-high three interceptions last season, tying for the team lead with Kaesviharn, who made three starts in 10 games. Burris had three interceptions for the Colts last season and a career-high four in 2000.

        Jennings, signed off the Detroit Lions' practice squad, played in nine games without an interception, but he had two for Amsterdam this spring in NFL Europe. He made the club as much for his special-teams ability as his cornerback skills.

        “You hope you can come up with more interceptions,” said Hawkins, the longest-tenured Bengals defensive back with four years of experience. “I'm not going to make any predictions. The best way to go about it is one game at a time.”

        Heath was claimed Monday by the Carolina Panthers and will receive $660,000 this season.

        “It couldn't happen to a nicer guy,” agent David Levine said of Heath, the ex-Western Hills High School star.


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