Sunday, April 25, 2004

Team was impressed by instincts, smarts

Cornerback Keiwan Ratliff

By Kevin Kelly
The Cincinnati Enquirer

They sat in the gym at Whitehall-Yearling High in Columbus a few weeks ago, rain pouring outside, and talked defense.

R1: RB Chris Perry
R2: CB Keiwan Ratliff
R2: FS Madieu Williams
R3: LB Caleb Miller
R3: LB Landon Johnson

Bengals defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle came not only to see Keiwan Ratliff work out.

Coyle also brought a DVD of the cornerback in action at Florida, hoping to gain insight on Ratliff's defensive smarts.

"He not only was able to tell me what he was doing, but what the safeties were doing, what the linebackers were doing, why they called that defense and what they wanted to do," Coyle said.

"He's got the skill to make the play, but he also has the anticipation and the recognition that you look for in a corner that can make that play instinctively."

The visit proved a clincher.

After passing on Ohio State cornerback Chris Gamble in the first-round, the Bengals chose Ratliff with their second pick (49th overall, 18th of the second round) in the NFL Draft on Saturday.

Ratliff is the fourth cornerback selected by the Bengals in the second round since 1998.

"He was, we thought, the most impressive corner at the Senior Bowl when we evaluated both sides of the ball," Coyle said. "He was a guy we felt real good about going into the draft and we're just happy to have him."

The 5-foot-10, 187-pound Ratliff is not as big or as fast as Gamble, but he gives the Bengals additional depth at cornerback.

Plus he adds the versatility displayed on special teams.

"What am I bringing to the table? Just the versatility as a defensive back," Ratliff said. "I feel I can play three out of the four positions in the defensive secondary.

"I can go out and play on any special teams unit at any spot you may need."

Ratliff started 27 games for the Gators and played in 49 overall from 2000-2003.

Originally recruited as a wide receiver out of high school, Ratliff converted to defense as a true freshman in 2000.

The position move left him pondering a transfer to Ohio State, which recruited him as a defensive back only in high school.

"I called my high school coach Scott Gordon, and I called my mom on three-way to find out if Ohio State would accept me if I wanted to transfer," said Ratliff, who caught four passes for 58 yards and a touchdown in 2002. "But my high school coach didn't get back to me for a couple of days, and by that time I had gotten into the flow on the defensive side of the ball."

Ratliff led the Southeastern Conference with nine interceptions to go along with 49 tackles last season and had 12 interceptions in his four seasons. He also scored five defensive touchdowns (three interception, two fumble recoveries).

"The coaches (at Florida) saw that I could make things happen on the defensive side," said Ratliff, who returned 76 punts for a school-record 860 yards. "So they left me on the defensive side.

"It was a blessing. I had a tremendous season my senior year and now I've been drafted in the second round by the Cincinnati Bengals."

Keiwan Ratliff, CB, Florida

Height, weight: 5-10, 187

DOB: 4/19/81

2003 stats: 9 interceptions for 182 yards and 2 TDs; 49 tackles; 31 punt returns for 343 yards.

2004 projection: Will vie for time as backup in defensive backfield; could also see time on special teams.

Personal: Born Keiwan Jevar Ratliff in Youngstown.... Sociology major.... SEC Defensive Player of the Year by The Sporting News.

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