Sunday, April 25, 2004

Bengals pick up their missing pieces


Fill needs instead of taking most spectacular players

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Except for first-round pick Chris Perry, the Bengals didn't go after players with big names on the first day of the NFL draft on Saturday.

DRAFT: DAY ONE
marvin
Overview
R1: RB Chris Perry
R2: CB Keiwan Ratliff
R2: FS Madieu Williams
R3: LB Caleb Miller
R3: LB Landon Johnson

But the Bengals, coming off a season in which their defense was ranked 28th in points and yards allowed, added four defensive players in the second and third rounds.

"We ended up with guys who are very athletic and productive," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said at 10:40 p.m., just minutes after they selected Purdue linebacker Landon Johnson with the 96th and final pick of Day 1.

Besides Johnson, the Bengals also selected Arkansas linebacker Caleb Miller in the third round (No. 80 overall).

In the second round, the Bengals drafted two defensive backs, Florida cornerback Keiwan Ratliff (No. 49) and Maryland safety Madieu Williams (No. 56).

Asked how his defense was different after the picks, Lewis said, "We're more productive. We got guys who can run. We got football players who will fight you. If you went to their college campuses, they would tell you they were the hardest-playing guys on their teams."

Lewis also said he expected all five of the Day 1 picks to be on the 53-man roster at the start of the season.

A phrase spoken repeatedly Saturday by Lewis and his assistant coaches was, "He fits what we do."

The Bengals knew the players they wanted and went after them, regardless of the lack of name recognition or the rankings assigned by media draft experts.

For starters, the Bengals had a chance to draft top-ranked running back Steven Jackson or Oregon State in the first round. Instead, the Bengals traded down two spots with St. Louis, which took Jackson, and drafted Perry out of Michigan.

"We gained the same player we would have picked there," Lewis said of taking Perry at No. 26. He will likely play behind featured back Rudi Johnson.

The Bengals received the Rams' fourth-round draft pick, No. 123 overall, to trade down two slots to No. 26. The Bengals now have three fourth-round picks at Nos. 114, 117 and 123. The fourth round will begin at 11 a.m. today.

The Bengals have 11 total picks Saturday and today, a total of eight in the first four rounds.

The Bengals could have had Ohio State cornerback Chris Gamble at No. 26. They waited until the 49th overall pick in the second round to take their cornerback in Ratliff.

Ratliff was fifth in the nation in 2003 with nine interceptions, which did lead the SEC. He returned two of the interceptions for touchdowns with a long of 77 yards.

"He can make big plays," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said of Ratliff, a Columbus native who played at Whitehall-Yearling High School.

"We want more interceptions," Frazier said. "Everybody wants more interceptions."

The Bengals had 14 in 2003.

[img]
Bengals fans Steve Phillips and Steve Phillips Jr. , 3, shout "Who Dey" at Paul Brown Stadium during the Bengals draft party Saturday.
(Melissa Heatherly photo)
The Bengals expect Ratliff to compete for the nickel back job. The starting cornerbacks are expected to be Tory James and Deltha O'Neal.

The Bengals also expect Williams to compete for the nickel job as a safety who can play the run and cover receivers.

Williams was taken at No. 56 overall, the pick the Bengals acquired from New England in exchange for disgruntled running back Corey Dillon.

Williams had seven interceptions in two seasons at Maryland after spending his first two collegiate seasons at Towson University. He is a native of Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa, who moved to the United States when he was 9 years old.

"They have the same characteristics," Lewis said of Ratliff and Williams. "They are good, tough football players. I think that gives you good value, and a way to improve your football team."

The Bengals staff coached the North team at the annual Senior Bowl all-star game in Mobile, Ala., in January. Williams and Ratliff both played on the South team, and Bengals coaches were allowed meeting time with players from the South.

The Bengals took Miller, a fast 225-pounder, with the 80th overall pick in the third round.

"He has good football smarts," Bengals linebackers coach Rickey Hunley said. "He can play over the tight end."

He had 117 total tackles in 2003, with 14 coming for loss. He also had one sack.

At No. 96 overall, the Bengals drafted Johnson of Purdue. He is also undersized at 227 pounds but had 102 tackles in 2003.

The Bengals invested all three of their first-day picks on offensive players in 2003: quarterback Carson Palmer, left guard Eric Steinbach and Tennessee wide receiver Kelley Washington.

Each of the four defensive players drafted Saturday have the ability to play special teams, another priority for Lewis and his staff.

Lewis said four or five NFL coaches called later Saturday to congratulate him for the haul.

"We've got a chance to make or break," Lewis said when asked if the Class of 2004 would be remembered as the one that helped turn the organization around.

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E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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