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Lewis looking for picks to produce now

Posted Apr 6, 2011

Updated: 8:45 p.m.

With a federal judge gently suggesting the players and owners head back to the bargaining table, an injunction to lift the NFL's labor lockout was taken under advisement in a St. Paul, Minn., courtroom Wednesday with a decision expected sometime in the next week.

So with the Bengals locked out of an option for their quarterback quandary, head coach Marvin Lewis invoked "old fashion football" Wednesday because with free agency not expected before the April 28-30 NFL Draft he sees the Bengals filling their holes primarily with drafted rookies who are going to have to contribute right away.

And that means quarterbacks, too.

Just another April smokescreen? There is a fire on offense where the Bengals need some key pieces starting with the quarterback and Lewis is saying all the nice things about the current Heisman Trophy winner just in case he ends up replacing his past Heisman winner.

"We're going to attack this thing," Lewis said, "because we have to assume we're going to be doing it the way we're doing it right now and putting the team together right now with these guys coming up through the draft. ... They've had the total focus of the entire country. There's been no distraction whatsoever other than the Final Four. Everybody wants them on television because there's nothing else to talk about."

So the Bengals aren’t looking for projects or practice squad players with their eight draft picks and that means quarterback, too, where the Bengals are trying to respond to Carson Palmer's trade-me-or-mothball-me demand. A few days after watching Auburn quarterback Cam Newton work privately in Alabama, Lewis is convinced he has that intangible "It" to be a franchise quarterback but he's not tipping his hand which way he's headed.

But that guy is going to have to line it up now.

"We have to make sure we get great players," Lewis said. "Because we're eventually going to complete this team with other players. So let's get the greatest young prospects that are going to play for a long period of time and hopefully at a very, very high level. It's important to be careful. Anybody we put our chip on, we're expecting him to come in here and go."

The Bengals are in the middle of hosting visits from the top quarterback prospects at Paul Brown Stadium, ranging from the two that could be taken at No. 4 in Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, to quarterbacks that could there in the second round at No. 35 in Arkansas' Ryan Mallett.

Whoever it is, Lewis says they better be ready.

"That's what we're saying; or that he's going to compete with the guys that are here," Lewis said. "It's not like we're saying someone else is going to be here. We're going to go with this player. I think that's a good thing for us because I think we feel there are some guys that can do that."

Then Lewis resorted to pre-draft smokescreens. Asked if the Bengals have to get that kind of quarterback with their first pick he said, "I'll tell you three weeks from Saturday."

The first round is three weeks from Thursday with the second and third rounds Friday. The puzzle the Bengals face is if they choose not to take Newton or Gabbert at four (or if they're gone), what happens in this quarterback-starved draft if there's a run before the Bengals go at No. 35? Do they have to trade up into the bottom of the first round to get a Mallett or Washington's Jake Locker, or Florida State's Christian Ponder?

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., mulled that one during a conference call Wednesday when asked about the tier under Newton, Gabbert, Locker and Mallett. He said the best long-term answer was Texas Christian's Andy Dalton, ticketed anywhere from the end of the first round to the third. He said Ponder and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick are second- or third-rounders.

The Bengals are familiar with a lot of these guys. They coached Locker and Kaepernick at the Senior Bowl two months ago and probably won't need them to visit because they Xed and Oed with them all week. That's where the Bengals also coached against Dalton and Ponder, the game's MVP. They're pretty comfortable with all four guys, but as Lewis says they didn't get a chance to work with Dalton and Ponder.

"At least I can recognize who they are. I had a leg up (at the scouting combine). At least I knew what the kid looked like," said Lewis with a laugh, recalling how a few weeks later he saw Dalton on TV with his bright red hair and knew he looked familiar.

But you can rest assured that Lewis is going to have no doubt identifying if a guy is football smart. He thinks the scores on the mental aptitude test taken at the combine (the Wonderlic) are important. And the QB prospects all have scores good enough not to scare teams away.

But Lewis says one of the most important meetings of the process is when he sits with a prospect in his office watching tape. It doesn't take him very long to figure out if a player has a competent enough I.Q. And with a new collective bargaining agreement expected to have less meeting and practice time in the offseason, brains are going to be a premium, Lewis says.

"You have guys that can recite exactly what they're doing and exactly what the guy next to them is doing play after play," Lewis said. "And then you have guys who don't have a very good feel for that. You can find out very quickly. (You're asking) them, it's not someone else.

"What are you doing here? What did you do right? What did you do wrong? What's this play? What's this coverage? What's this front? What are you looking at? What are you reading? What were you told to do here?"

Lewis says the Wonderlic can be a guide, but it can't be gospel.

"Is that a reflection of on the field, or do you have to deal with the player in life skills?" Lewis asked. "As we know, the background of some guys puts them at a disadvantage and sometimes the scores reflect that. But I've seen plenty of guys score high and can't adjust to football very well. I think there are guys that score low in ranges and are very good in learning football and retaining football and have done the things you need to do. And there are guys who score high and have zero common sense."

But Lewis is saying all the right things about Newton despite the heat the former Auburn quarterback getting from the national media ever since last season when the story broke his father tried to sell him to Mississippi State. Just in the last week Kiper questioned Newton's work ethic while Pro Football Weekly said teams are worried about his "fake smile" and sincerity.

Knowing that this is the season for smoke and mirrors, let it be known it was reported this week (but not confirmed by Lewis) that the Bengals worked out Newton on site. But Lewis was enthusiastic about Newton's improvement since a bad throwing day at the NFL scouting combine. 

"He's a real fine NFL prospect," said Lewis, who witnessed Newton's impressive Pro Day last month. "He's got a great, great personality. Magnetic."

Lewis smiled when asked about the scrutiny Newton is facing for that personality. He says the "It" factor a franchise quarterback must have is very much in the club's minds in this process.

"He's got it. He's got it. Whoever said that wished they had it," Lewis said. "It's really important when you're talking about evaluating the quarterback position that they have that. That they're that kind of guy. You've got be a guy that is standup, ready to take control kind of guy. Whether you're talking about the football team, whether you're talking about the city. Talking about a lot of stuff. The good thing is that all these kids this year have been that.

"In Cam's case, he's been 'it' three times," Lewis said of Newton's collegiate journeys. "He went to Gainesville that way with that kind of fanfare. He went to Blinn Junior College where he had to slink down as low as he could go. He came out of it that way and went to Auburn that way. Now he comes into the NFL. He's kind of had that 'it,' been that kind of guy for awhile."

The biggest on-field knock on Newton is that he has only played one season of Division I ball and while it did win him a national title and the Heisman Trophy, it gets the draftnicks queasy thinking about one-year wonders such as Akili Smith. The Bengals prefer players who have had multiple productive seasons at big schools in the mold of last year's class. First-rounder Jermaine Gresham had 25 TDs in his last two seasons at Oklahoma, second-rounder Carlos Dunlap followed up a 9.5-sack season with nine at Florida, and third-rounder Jordan Shipley became Texas' all-time leading receiver in 53 games.

But Lewis stuck up for Newton with, "So he probably should have stayed and come back, and duplicated it again?"

More pre-draft smokescreens?

Asked if the one-year wonder tag factors in, Lewis simply said, "It's all part of the process."

Newton had a tough time at Florida, where he couldn't get on the field and was accused of stealing a laptop from another student. He made the climb back from Juco, only to endure another media circus over the reports his father offered his services to Mississippi State for money.

Lewis has taken note of Newton's perseverance.

"He's gone through some adversity that's been created around him," Lewis said. "Some self-inflicted at times. Probably some inflicted by the environment around him at times. Some made up, probably. But whatever it is, he's been successful. He shoulders responsibilities and he's done well with it."

One thing that is clear is the Bengals coaches are grinding through the lockout without any contact with the players, but it's going to be business as usual. As the draft process comes to an end, the coaches begin to prep for opponents and get an idea of how to structure things when the NFL schedule comes out some time in the next two weeks or so. That is if the NFL decides not to release the sked the same week as the draft.

As usual, the coaches are also going to meet with NFL officials.

Lewis said the club has received permission for some contact with players when it comes to charity and community events for which they have already committed, such as the "School is Cool" program under a wing of the Marvin Lewis Community Fund.     

 

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