|O'Neal unhappy with Lewis' comments|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 01 June 2007 13:25|
The 30-year-old cornerback insisted at the start of minicamp Friday that he would keep his starting job, even though the Bengals used their first-round pick on Michigan cornerback Leon Hall in April.
``Everybody wants to be the starting corner,'' said O'Neal, who avoided interviews last season. ``I'm just going to fight my way to stay at the top.''
He hurt his chances by skipping a voluntary workout last month after telling Lewis he would attend. O'Neal decided to stay home to attend to a family matter. Lewis considered it a poor decision.
``You get the chance to right your ship, particularly for a defensive back, and today he missed out on some work that he shouldn't miss on,'' Lewis said at the time. ``He just put himself further behind.''
O'Neal has talked to Lewis to mend matters, but still smarts from the way he was publicly singled out.
``I wish Marvin would come to me and talk to me and not y'all, and not put it out there and make it seem like I'm a bad person,''' O'Neal said. ``But it's good motivation. I take it in stride.''
He's going to have to do more than that to keep his starting job.
O'Neal tied for the league lead with 10 interceptions and made the Pro Bowl in 2005, but slipped mightily last season due in part to injuries. Offseason knee surgery limited him in training camp and prevented him from starting the season opener.
A shoulder injury on Nov. 12 against San Diego kept him out of three games, and he was benched for one game after his arrest in December for drunken driving. He finished the season with only one interception, a big disappointment on a defense that had the league's worst pass defense.
His off-field problems didn't help.
O'Neal was one of nine Bengals arrested during a nine-month span. He later pleaded guilty to reckless driving, part of an agreement with prosecutors that settled the drunken driving case. He got a suspended 30-day jail sentence and was put on three years of probation.
The Bengals allowed starting cornerback Tory James to leave as a free agent in the offseason, opening the way for Johnathan Joseph - their top draft pick last year - to move into a starter's job. It's only a matter of time before Hall joins him at the other starting spot.
When the Bengals took Hall in the first round, O'Neal started getting phone calls from friends wondering about his future.
``A lot of people called me and said, 'What are you going to do now?''' O'Neal said. ``I'm still trying to perform well, like I've been doing.''
He attributes his slide last season to the injuries. He also was miffed that the Bengals didn't improve his contract after his Pro Bowl season in 2005. He made $2.8 last year, and has two years left on his deal for a total of $4 million.
``I watched the guys around the league - the corner market was off the (charts) last year and this year,'' O'Neal said. ``I was hoping to get my fair share. It is kind of frustrating. But they say you have to perform well to get it.''
Lewis said on Friday that he wants to see more consistency out of the cornerback.
``To have a guy of his talents and abilities and his intellect is important because he has it all,'' Lewis said. ``He has the speed, the athleticism, the intellect, the ball skills ... he's got the total package.''