You can’t tell the players without a scorecard. Especially a field of 18 defensive backs. With the Bengals taking the field Tuesday and Thursday this week in their third week of voluntary camps, here is a look by their uniform numbers at the group swarming in the secondary.
It’s going to be a bloodletting because they keep only 10 with six cornerbacks and four safeties. Here are the guys they think have ability to play both corner and safety or have given looks at both: Chris Crocker, Keiwan Ratliff, Tom Nelson, Rico Murray, Morgan Trent, and, in a real pinch, Leon Hall.
20 – CB David Jones, 6-0, 196, fourth season: A defining year for him. Lost his No. 3 corner job last year when he broke his foot in the first week of training camp last year and he didn’t get into the lineup until the fifth game.
21 – CB Brandon Ghee, 6-0, 192, R: Third-round pick out of Wake Forest with a lot of college experience who has physical gifts but needs to put them together. Has been impressive early with a willingness to watch the vets.
22 – CB Johnathan Joseph, 5-11, 193, 5: One of the NFL’s top corners. Might have made the play of the year last season when he began the second half with a 30-yard interception return for a TD to begin comeback win over Steelers. Great closing speed with 74 career passes defensed.
23 – CB Johnny Sears, 6-0, 184, R: Free agent out of Eastern Michigan. Violations of team rules got him bounced out of Michigan. But Leon Hall and Morgan Trent talked to the Bengals about him. With Sears a Ron English disciple, secondary coach Kevin Coyle knows that means he understands the game and plays aggressively and physical. He has been impressive in one-on-ones with good size and speed.
24 – CB Adam Jones, 5-10, 186, 4: Flashing all his physical tools this spring, particularly closing speed and ability to get his hands on the ball. The Bengals are not only looking to get the rust off his technique but improving his technique and monitoring his aptitude at staying within the discipline of the scheme.
25 – CB Morgan Trent, 6-1, 195, 2: Won the No. 3 job last year with good versatility. Getting a little look at safety this spring. Good size. Does a little bit of everything with four passes defensed and a secondary-high four quarterback pressures.
26 – CB-S Keiwan Ratliff, 5-11, 188, 7: In his second reincarnation with the Bengals after they took him in the second round in ’04. He wasn’t a burner then, but he’s smart and can play all five spots.
27 – S Gibril Wilson, 6-0, 205, 7: A recent pickup the Bengals think is going to contribute significantly. He comes in with 80 starts and has already impressed as an excellent practice player.
29 – CB Leon Hall, 5-11, 199, 4: One of top corners in the league. Rarely gets beat, technically brilliant, and can really mix it up physically. Team-high six picks augmented by 73 tackles. If he had to, the Bengals think he’s versatile enough to play safety.
31 – Roy Williams, 6-0, 222, 9: A broken forearm has limited him to seven games in the last two years, but the coaches are still buzzing about the impact he made last year for them in the last training camp and first month of the season. A five-time Pro Bowler with all the experience that brings.
33 – S DeAngelo Willingham, 6-0, 200, 1: The Bengals picked him up off waivers a few weeks ago after he had a nomadic rookie year without playing in a game. He played both safety and corner at Tennessee. Has shown up conscientious and willing. Intriguing speed for his size.
34 – S Kyries Hebert, 6-3, 220, 3: Special teams captain. Tied for second in special-teams tackles last season with 12. Tremendous physical presence in the kicking game. In this roster scrum his limited play from scrimmage could hurt him, but Coyle says this spring is the best he’s looked at 100 percent healthy.
39 – S Bryan Evans, 5-11, 193, R: Free agent out of Georgia. Started 23 of 47 games in four seasons and 12 the past season with 46 tackles, half a sack and three pass breakups. One career interception. The Bengals liked his toughness on tape and when he got here they’ve been impressed with his explosion and change of direction.
41 – S Chinedum Ndukwe, 6-2, 224, 4: Started 12 games in place of Williams last season and has 25 in his career. A productive guy who gets around the ball. The coaches have continually worked on his discipline staying in the scheme and this spring they’re saying he’s looked as good as he has since he’s been here.
42 – S Chris Crocker, 5-11, 200, 8: A productive, hard-hitting secondary leader. His ankle injury late in the year really hurt the Bengals playoff run. Can play in the corner slot if needed but usually stays at safety in the nickel. He is being brought back slowly off ankle surgery and has yet to be on the field.
43 – S Tom Nelson, 5-11, 203, 2: Made the club last year as a free agent out of Illinois State but this year’s bid hampered by last season’s knee injury that has kept him off the field this spring. A smart, versatile guy that has played the corner slot. He had a rough end-of-season but the injury didn’t help him.
44 – S Rico Murray, 5-11, 202, 1: Made the practice squad last year as a free agent out of Kent State and injuries got him promoted to last five games that included the playoffs. The Moeller High grad is drawing some interest. He played corner last year, dabbled some at safety, and now the Bengals are looking at him this year primarily as a safety as they develop him for both spots.
45 – S Jeromy Miles, 6-2, 210, R: Free agent out of Massachusetts. Transfer from Navy played 47 straight games, the last 36 at UMass. Senior captain finished fourth in tackles and had two picks, two forced fumbles, and five passes defensed to earn first-team Walter Camp All-American. Coyle, his fellow UMass safety, likes his NFL size and speed, but like all rookie safeties, how quickly does he assimilate the big picture?
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