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Another reboot

Posted Jan 22, 2014

As Marvin Lewis wrapped up his scouting trip to the Senior Bowl he pledged the third reboot of his tenure.

Updated: 8:30 p.m.

MOBILE, Ala. — As for getting advice on how to replace two coordinators in the same year, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis only had to walk down the steps in the Senior Bowl stands after Wednesday morning's North practice to confer with his good friend Mike Smith to find out how it's done.

Smith, the head coach of the Falcons, has his staff here coaching the North and after practice he was on his cell phone with Lewis trying to set up a place to talk. The good friends had yet to meet this week until now in this résumés-gone-wild-in-pro-football's-biggest-job-fair. After all, Smith has been coaching this week while Lewis has been scouting under the radar in his infamous Nike disguises.

"They've done a great job (getting players). Marvin tells me they've had some of their best drafts the years they've been down here," Smith said.

Having good players is a good place to start when you have to turn over your offense and defense to new coordinators in the same year. But Smith also says continuity and familiarity are key and he should know.

In the season before this one Smith lost offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey when he became the head coach in Jacksonville, and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder when he took the same job at Auburn. While Lewis has promoted from within to replace Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden, Smith went outside for familiarity when he hired Dirk Koetter on offense and Mike Nolan on defense. The Falcons followed up a 10-6 season with a 13-3 record in 2012 to come within an eyelash of going to the Super Bowl.

Of course, it didn't hurt Smith had Matty Ice, too.

"You have to have good people building on what we had established," Smith said. "I hired two guys I knew in previous spots, Dirk Koetter in Jacksonville and Mike Nolan in Baltimore. The (offensive) system was very similar to what they did when Mike Mularkey was the coordinator. There were very few changes. The defensive system is what Mike (Nolan) and I worked at in Baltimore. What Marvin's done will make it that much smoother."

One of Lewis's promotions has come to the attention of NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock. New Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is a Philadelphia buddy from way back, but Mayock has high regard for his acumen after watching some tape occasional tape with Guenther.

"When you lose two coordinators from a very good team, continuity is important," Mayock said. "You have a guy on staff already trained by Mike Zimmer who knows the players inside and out and you can continue that system. It's priceless. He's a very, very bright guy who doesn't like the spotlight, who's not a me-guy, but he knows the game. … His understanding of pass protection and how to attack an offense for a young guy is awesome. I haven't seen too many people like that. He's really advanced."

Mayock also knows Guenther well enough that he thinks he's got enough thorns in the wake of Zimmer's departure to hold his own with the guys.

"Trust me, ask the linebackers in that room. Paul's got a little edge to him. He can be tough when he needs to be," Mayock said. "I think he understands how to handle kids."

Before Lewis met with Smith on Wednesday, he met with a couple of media members from Cincinnati and said the adding of two new coordinators marks a third reboot in his dozen seasons with the Bengals and first since the Green-Dalton reboot of '11.

“It’s kind of the start of the offseason for us as coaches so it kind of brings you back to reality," Lewis said as he prepared to hop on a plane back home. "We’re going to get working again. We’re going to go back to Cincinnati and have to put the staff together and redo responsibilities and assignments and things like that because it’s different now. It’s a reboot of the reboot. We have to start fresh. The past three years is gone, we’ve got new coordinators and coaches and starting fresh.”

It was 11 years ago at this game that Lewis became head coach of the Bengals and as he wrapped up his scouting trip to the Senior Bowl on Wednesday he pledged the third reboot of his tenure.

The first one was spurred by his hire. The drafting of perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton three years ago marked the next one and led to three straight postseason berths. Now he says the hiring of two coordinators, Hue Jackson on offense and Paul Guenther on defense, have sparked "a re-re-reboot" in pursuit of that elusive playoff success.

"We have to start again. We have to start fresh. The past is the past three years. It's gone. We have to start new," Lewis said. "We're starting new with new coordinators and coaches … I think all the guys we brought in in new spots are going to energize us. They're all excited and good, that's great."

Lewis is particularly emboldened by the selections of Vance Joseph as a secondary coach in a double team with incumbent Mark Carrier and the hire of Matt Burke as linebackers coach. Lewis likes the fact that Burke, a disciple of Lewis disciple Jim Schwartz, is apparently a clone of Schwartz. And Lewis says there is "no more revered secondary coach in the NFL" than Joseph.

“Jimmy has spoken real highly of him. As I went thought it with Jimmy, he described the same things with Matt, which is all I needed to hear,” said Lewis, who has yet to hand out titles or responsibilities in the secondary.

“I’ll handle that. Vance was trained from the bottom up as a coach. Mark is a former player and has certain qualities that way. This is the most position we have that way and it is also the quickest way to lose a football game. We had to make sure we have two real good and qualified people.” 

Also Wednesday, Lewis, a member of the NFL competition committee, said he's against the proposal to ban the extra point ("It's part of the game") and that he is not sure yet if Andrew Whitworth is going to play left tackle or left guard.

Lewis also reiterated Andy Dalton is his quarterback but that the Bengals will look at drafting any position if it's a right fit.

"If you talk to any coach or personnel person they know what a great start to his career that Andy Dalton has had,” Lewis said. "You always have that in any position in the league. It has to be right timing, fit and person. Is the right person there when it is our time to stand up and pick a guy?”

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