Marvin Lewis’ pre-draft news conferences are historically the bland finale to months of mind-numbing preparation and Tuesday’s effort Paul Brown Stadium can be described as traditionally polite and benign and that makes him no different than any other head coach in draft week.
Although it was rather newsworthy that Lewis sure didn’t sound like a guy on Tuesday that is about to draft a quarterback when things get underway Thursday (8 p.m.-NFL Network and ESPN) as the Bengals aim for about a 10:30 p.m. selection.
He didn’t even sound like a guy that was going to draft a backup quarterback later for Andy Dalton. Or if they do, it sounded like that guy would be a No. 3 behind either Jason Campbell or Josh Johnson.
Of course, Lewis could have been blowing more smoke than Lookout Mountain. But when asked about how the draft ignites roster battles, Lewis said quarterback is the only spot that has room for one clear cut starter.
“You don’t have enough reps. You can’t give that guy enough opportunity to do what he needs to do to make a fair comparison,” Lewis said. “We’re not going to take reps away from Andy Dalton to give somebody else another opportunity to do that. It’s only fair to the rest of the team. If I’m going to put you in place as the quarterback or a competing quarterback, I have to give you enough reps for the team to be good enough to win with you.”
Since he arrived in 2003 and anointed Jon Kitna despite the selection of Carson Palmer No. 1, Lewis has made sure he had a clear-cut starting quarterback when the spring camps opened.
“It’s worked pretty well for us that I don’t have that kind of confusion. This football team knows who their quarterback is going to be and who the leader of it is,” he said. “It’s made us better for that. They can get behind him and rally behind them and he can rally them.”
That doesn’t exactly sound like Lewis is the chairman of the Welcome Wagon for Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at No. 24.
And with the release of the injured Zac Robinson last week, the Bengals are down to Jason Campbell and Josh Johnson behind Dalton. Lewis made it sound like if the Bengals do pick a quarterback, he’ll be a No. 3. Lewis said he wants a mature No. 2 that can respond with few practice reps.
“One of the attractions with Jason and Josh is they’ve been in that situation, they understand the meaning of that situation and why,” Lewis said. “They’ve got to have the maturity if they have to go in and play. They have to approach the position each week as if they’re the guy. But whoever ends up being in that second chair, they understand the responsibilities of that chair as well.”
You can also put Lewis on the long list of NFL people miffed by the draft’s two-week delay. It has forced him to cancel the annual rookie minicamp that took place after the draft and move the last week of on-field voluntary workouts to after the June 10-12 minicamp for June 16-18. They won’t take the field for the first two weeks of voluntaries until May 27-29 and June 3-5.
Most of the rookies are expected Monday for the voluntary conditioning workouts and Lewis hopes to fast track them into the offense and defense with special attention from the position coaches. They’ll be in Phase II of the voluntaries, which started Tuesday and consisted of the offense and defense running plays, but not against each other.
“This is the time we should be spending with the players. Secondly, it takes away an opportunity for the rookies,” Lewis said. “As far as teaching goes, it’s a great progression to have an opportunity for them to come and spend time at a rookie camp, have an opportunity to go home for a bit and absorb what they got exposed to, and then come back with the other players and to have the second time around. To me, that’s a much better teaching progression, so then they get it again a third time when we go to training camp so they can get things locked down.
“We are kind of skipping a step of that now (the rookie camp) because there is no reason to bring those guys in next week, and then overwork them the next weekend because they are going to be the first guys that have all the soft tissue injuries. So we are going to skip that step in the process here.”
They won’t know who those guys are going to be until the dust clears late Saturday afternoon when they sign what is expected to be a small class of undrafted free agents. Among the draft-room preparations are various mock drafts, including their own that projects the first three rounds.
“My boss, Mike Brown, he has a mock draft about every hour,” said Lewis about the Bengals president. “He plays the devil's advocate constantly. And I think it's a good thing. ‘If this guy is not available, if these players are all gone and we're looking at this pool of players, which player do you prefer and why?’
“That's the scenario you've got to go through. It's important for Mike and I to be always on the same page that way, and I feel like we are. He knows how I feel. We've discussed it, we'll discuss it again later today and tomorrow, and we'll discuss it again in the room (during the draft). So we've got a few more times to discuss it. But he knows how I feel, and whatever pick we turn in, we'll make him the best player he can be.”
Lewis reiterated the mantra that has held the Bengals in good stead the past five drafts and insists that the one thing that covers all scenarios is the sanctity of the board.
“We rate the guys, and we’re going to number them, and put them in an order that’s best for us and make sure we stick to that,” Lewis said. “That’s the key thing. We want to make sure that throughout the three days, we get the best player that we have done the work on, as far as evaluation, and that he’s healthy and can play for a while. That’s the thing that sometimes the outliers don’t understand. They don’t know the physical grades. They don’t know the mental aptitude that the player has that we’ve spent time on, whether it be the personnel staff, or the guy visiting here or one of our coaches visiting with the player on his campus. That’s important to me as well.”
And it has been during the last couple of these drafts that Lewis has been heard to talk about a “Bengals profile.” Asked to define it, he began and ended at reliability.
“We want a guy that, number one, we can count on,” he said. “That’s the hardest part of the evaluation, having a guy we can count on. That means having the ability to stay here, to be proficient here and having the personality to be able to do it. That is where you’ve got to spend the time, whether it is personality, past, future, and then ability.”
Even though the Bengals rarely trade, Lewis still gets asked about trades. They did trade down with a first-round pick in 2012, but that’s a year they had two first-rounders. Their last draft day trade before that one was in 2004.
In contrast, the Ravens traded up in the second round last year for linebacker Arthur Brown, traded down for linebacker Courtney Upshaw in the second round and traded up for running back Bernard Pierce in the third round in 2012, and in 2011 traded up for guard Jah Reid in the third round.
“If certain players and positions stay on the board a little longer then people anticipated, and you have a craving for that position and want to move back to get it, yes,” Lewis said. “Or people will move back out of it for someone to come up to get a particular player. You have to see how it unfolds to begin with. I think once you get into the first five, six picks everyone will have an idea, just like a year ago when the offensive linemen began to go off the board. Offensive/defensive linemen went off the draft board the way they did, and then it kind of set the table for the rest of it.”