8/4/2004 - 8-4-04, 7:05 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Madieu Williams, about to win Rookie of the Week honors during his first stint at Georgetown College, is the Kim Herring of the previous decade. Meanwhile, Herring is the secondary general the Bengals haven’t had in this decade.
The veteran and the kid, camp roommates and Draft Day soulmates, are two reasons why club insiders believe this is the Bengals’ best secondary since the 1996 version set the club record for interceptions.
Herring gives it what it didn’t have last year. A get-them-lined-up-right-guy familiar with Marvin Lewis geometry as the Bengals’ most experienced and decorated safety in years. Williams is the rookie who has the most impact here, a safety actually bidding to get on the field right away as the slot cornerback on passing downs.
“We all saw how quick his feet were the first time we saw him in the defensive back drills,” said safety Kevin Kaesviharn before Wednesday night’s practice. “We could see how good his balance is. He’s got that combination that other teams would love to have. He’s quick enough to be a corner and has the size (6-1, 193 pounds) to be a safety.”
The 6-1, 194-pound Kaesviharn is another guy who has that combination and he has played both corner and safety since he arrived in 2001. He knows what Williams is getting pelted with in the playbook.
“He’s learning so many positions that it’s going to take time to sink in. Once it does, you’ll see a faster Madieu Williams,” Kaesviharn said. “He looks just as fast and quick in pads as he did without them.”
So. What is Williams? A corner? Or safety? Secondary coach Kevin Coyle smiled. “We’ll see.” Coyle sees him simply as versatile and would love to use him as a safety: “He’s very, very quick, has excellent closing speed and plays the ball well. In the past few days, he’s made that jump taking the classroom to the field.”
But Williams also leaves the safeties to play slot corner on passing downs. Second-year corner Terrell Roberts is also getting those slot snaps, and Williams joins Roberts and the other corners for one-on-one drills when the rest of the defense is going through nine-on-seven.
“Those one-on-one drills have transferred over well to the practices,” Williams said.
Suddenly, the name of second-round holdout Keiwan Ratliff isn’t mentioned very much as a candidate to play the slot corner.
“If there are three guys going for the job,” Lewis said, “the guy who isn’t here must be third.”
Herring warned Williams. Herring knew. In the 1997 draft, Lewis’ second as the Ravens defensive coordinator, Lewis helped select a big (6-0, 200) fast safety who could cover out of Penn State named Herring with the 58th pick in the second round. One of his suitemates at this camp is Williams, the 56th pick in the last draft, a selection of the hybrid defense of Lewis and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
“I told him he looked so much like me,” Herring said. “They’ve got him playing nickel (cornerback), the free, the strong, special teams. I told him, ‘I was the same as you are. So get ready, drink your Gatorade and take your salt pills.’”
That isn’t the only advice Herring is giving Williams. Williams hasn’t been shy back in the room at night after meetings and asking Herring about something in his playbook. He also did it on the field Wednesday morning. They were deployed in something called “Cover 4,” and Williams wanted to reassure himself that he had the right read when trips were on his side.
“(Herring) sees it before it happens,” Williams said. “So I’m always picking his brain and he’s always there with an answer.”
It’s a big reason Lewis wanted Herring, one of his safeties on the record-setting Baltimore defense that won the Super Bowl after the 2000 season. Even before Herring shattered his forearm and missed the entire 2003 season in St. Louis, Lewis was scanning the waiver wire looking to see if the Rams would move him.
“He’s like a coach on the field,” said secondary assistant Louie Cioffi. “He’s extremely intelligent. He always gets us in the right call. The guys really look to him. He’s that confident. He’s back there running the show. He’s gone to a Super Bowl with Marvin. That stuff is big.”
As Kaesviharn said, “We really haven’t had a guy like him around here since I’ve been here (for four years.) He’s a bigger guy than we’ve normally had.”
Herring is not only 212 pounds now, but he also has the seasoning that guys like Mark Roman, Rogers Beckett, and Marquand Manuel didn’t have last season, or that young guys like Kaesviharn, JoJuan Armour, and Cory Hall had in the previous few seasons at safety. They haven’t had a regular safety with more than five years of experience in the NFL since Darryl Williams in 2000, and Kaesviharn can see that.
“He gets guys where they’re supposed to be,” Kaesviharn said.
This might not be totally Lewis’ defense, but Herring has seen enough familiar aspects to allow him to ease into the play calls pretty easily.
“There’s a lot of Leslie Frazier in this scheme and I can sort of see the differences. But there isn’t too much difference,” Herring said. “It’s the same kind of zone blitz, a lot of the sets, and stunt and the coverages are the same.”
Which now gives the secondary an edge they didn’t have last year. Plus, Kaesviharn says he and his teammates are more comfortable the second time around in this scheme.
“That’s what is so exciting about our defense,” Kaesviharn said. “We’ve got the whole unit together and not in bits and pieces.”
The veteran and the kid may supply the last two pieces to a puzzle that has been years in the making.
I love the last sentence. I know I've said it many times already, but I love the drafting of Madieu! A guy who is very fast, hits hard, seems to have a great attitude about learning, and can play corner or saftety. Our secondary is looking so much better and athletic this year with the additions of Deltha, Madieu, and Herring. Ratliff, get your ass signed so I can mention you in stories like this!