Thursday, July 31, 2003

James' impact already felt


Ex-Raider brings toughness to DBs

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Tory James started 13 games and three playoff games at cornerback last season for the Oakland Raiders, an organization with a tradition of hard-hitting defensive backs.

[IMAGE] Defensive back Tory James started 13 games and three playoff games at cornerback last season for the Oakland Raiders.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
In three days of training camp, James is bringing that aggressiveness to the Bengals' secondary, though he downplays the Raider mystique that traces back to Jack Tatum and George Atkinson.

James and Chad Johnson, the Bengals' top wide receiver, already have developed a healthy competition in practices that both players say will make them better.

"The Raiders stuff is behind me now," James said Wednesday. "The NFL is leaning toward bigger, physical cornerbacks. The trend with the wide receivers is they're getting bigger, stronger and faster. It's more of an NFL thing, not an individual team."

But James' style, along with the change to a more physical style of coverage, already has made the Bengals secondary a more dangerous place for quarterbacks and receivers.

"He brings confidence in his ability and his technique," Bengals defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle said. "He is sure of himself, and he brings an attitude that rubs off on everybody around him."

James, 30, was one of the most important free agent signings of the offseason. He is an experienced cornerback whose style of jamming receivers at the line fits the type of defense coach Marvin Lewis and coordinator Leslie Frazier have installed.

Bengals fans have been frustrated by previous schemes that had cornerbacks giving big cushions to receivers at the line of scrimmage.

Lewis said James has the "fighter-pilotconfidence you have to have to play that position. There are going to be not-so-good plays, and you have to forget the last one and move on to the next one."

Jeff Burris, who has the early claim on the other cornerback position, sees some Raider in James.

"It's one of those things that he comes in with the confidence," said Burris, a former Buffalo and Indianapolis starter. "Being with the Raiders, and the mystique behind their defense, obviously it's true because they've had guys who played well and have been successful."

The Bengals' nine interceptions in 2002 tied with Denver and Chicago for fewest in the NFL. Their 24 sacks were tied for 30th with Dallas. Only Arizona had fewer, with 21.

James brings 18 career interceptions, three forced fumbles and 64 pass deflections to the Bengals.

Increasing the sacks and interceptions numbers are priorities of the new defense, and they work hand in hand.

In explaining Burris' spot as a starter, after a much-maligned first year with the Bengals, Lewis said, "He needs to play better, and the guys up front need to get things done."

James, at 6 feet 2, 186 pounds, is considered a big cornerback. The Bengals also drafted another big cornerback, Dennis Weathersby, who is backing up James on the depth chart. Weathersby is 6-1, 204.

"For this defense to work and the secondary to play good, the corners are going to have to get up there and play physical and re-route receivers and get in their face," James said. "I knew that coming in, and that's a big reason I'm here."

James has long arms, so long, Burris said, that the other defensive backs call him "Matrix."

"He can jam a guy from 5 yards off," Burris said.

A second-round pick by the Broncos in 1996, James spent the past three seasons with the Raiders. He covered future Hall of Fame receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown every day in practice.

Now he's facing the likes of Johnson and Peter Warrick.

Johnson, who has said he wants to be the next Rice, welcomes the challenge that comes from facing James and his physical style.

Johnson got mad during Tuesday afternoon's practice when James broke up a pass intended for him.

"Being able to work with Tory, he lets me know what I can and can't do, things he has learned from them (Rice and Brown)," Johnson said. "It helps me out a lot."

E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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