Bengals use draft to add speed, defense

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 26, 2004

CINCINNATI - The Bengals opened their draft with a running back and finished it with a quarterback.

In-between, it was all about defense.

Coach Marvin Lewis took seven defensive players in the draft, an indication of how badly he wants to upgrade the unit and special teams. More telling was the type of player he picked.

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Reputation and size weren't the overriding factors. Speed and instincts counted more.

''We passed on the underachievers and got some athletic overachievers, and I think that's important,'' Lewis said.

Cincinnati stockpiled picks in Lewis' second draft with the Bengals, and wound taking 11 players overall. The first pick was Michigan running back Chris Perry, who has a chance to play a lot as a rookie as a complement to Rudi Johnson.

Wyoming quarterback Casey Bramlet was Cincinnati's seventh-round pick and will get a chance to win the third-string job behind Carson Palmer and Jon Kitna.

In addition, the Bengals chose two cornerbacks, two linebackers, one free safety, two defensive linemen, one receiver and one offensive tackle.

Both linebackers arrived in the third round - Arkansas' Caleb Miller and Purdue's Landon Johnson - and gave a glimpse of the type of player Lewis prefers. Both are undersized but fast, and Lewis is putting a premium on speed.

''I know that when we drafted Ray Lewis (in Baltimore), he was 232 pounds and 6-foot,'' Marvin Lewis said. ''Now some people think he's 6-foot-5 and about 500 pounds.

''I think we'll take our shot with that. They're going to grow and develop. They're smart guys, they're playmakers and they have a great passion for wanting to play.''

None of the picks will be counted on to win a starting job right away. Keiwan Ratliff, a second-round pick, could be an extra cornerback in passing downs at the outset.

The draft could provide some of the depth missing last season, when the Bengals finished 8-8 and stayed in playoff contention until the last game in Marvin Lewis' first year. Cincinnati was fortunate that most of its starters stayed healthy during the season.

The defense collapsed in December last season, dooming the Bengals to an 8-8 record and their 13th consecutive season without a winning record. Fixing it was the top offseason priority.

The Bengals acquired cornerback Deltha O'Neal, free safety Kim Herring and middle linebacker Nate Webster to upgrade the defense before the draft. They also would like to get defensive lineman Daryl Gardener if he's released by Denver in June.

The acquisitions relieved pressure to get immediate starters from the draft, something the Bengals have tried to do in the past.

''In the age of free agency and allocating dollars that way, we've already addressed the top of the roster a little more than maybe would have happened in the past,'' Lewis said. ''I think we've already addressed a lot of issues through free agency.''