Transcript of Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis's appearance at Tuesday's NFL head coaches media breakfast during the last day of the NFL meetings in New Orleans.
Did you do all your normal work for free agency?
ML: “We’re prepared. Every team has gone about their process as usual especially on the coaching end, the evaluation of our team and so forth and looking at that. Free agency if it were to open and be a part of our system I don’t think we would be real active in just where we are as a team with as many young guys that we have.”
Any idea of what the landscape is going to be like after being here for a couple days?
ML: “We do. I don’t think you can spend much time worrying about what you can’t control. I didn’t come with anything that way. It’s been helpful being here and kind of figuring out what might be the new direction and that’s the exciting part. It’s going to be a change and everyone will adjust and move forward.”
Carson’s situation fall under something you can’t control?
ML: “His situation is what it is. Whatever Carson decides to do he does but it’s not going to affect our direction and so forth at this point. We’re going to move forward.”
Last time you spoke to Carson?
ML: “First week of February.”
Isn’t it hard to move forward at QB?
ML: “The circumstances and situation are what they are. We’re going to have to move forward and be excited about it. I’m excited about the direction on offense with our new coaches and so forth and that’s good. I’m excited about where things are at defensively. It’s not the ideal thing if I can write the script but I can’t.”
Lot of discussion at QB, do you have to do your due diligence at four and pick one?
ML: I believe we have to make sure not necessarily at quarterback as much as get the right value at that pick. If it’s a quarterback or that player. We’re going to do our due diligence because right now we’re going to take one of the first four players to come off the board.
Gut feeling whether you are going to have to make a change and go in a different direction?
ML: You can’t really control much about that. We were going to consider the things we were going to consider regardless of Carson’s situation. Right now we have to do what’s best for the rest of the team and be excited about it.
If I told you some people consider Julio Jones to be a better player than A.J. Green would that surprise you?
ML: Not really. I think that’s the fun of the draft. There’s 32 teams, sometimes we look at things slightly differently. It’s like going to the ice cream shop and shopping for ice cream. Some people favor different flavors. I think they’re both going to be outstanding players. They’re both big and play the game physically. They both ran well and it’s fun to watch. They’re both good guys to be around and as the process goes forward we’ll be able to spend more time with them.
Julio Jones blocking ability intrigue you?
ML: It does. He really is a tenacious blocker. He’s been in an offense where they favor the run more at times and you get the opportunity to do that.
Lot of speculation about Chad, do you see him being a Bengal?
ML: Chad has a contract. The biggest thing about Chad and obviously I’ve had a lot of time invested in Chad Johnson. He’s at a point in his life and career. Hopefully he will continue to mature as a person and be a productive football player and person as he goes forward. To me looking at Chad where is his life going to be in five years. As far as a football player he’s under contract and we’ll continue to evaluate things as we move forward.
We asked Mike Brown if Chad is on the block but you can’t make any trades?
ML: Good answer.
But you’re planning on him?
ML: He’s under contract. Both guys are. Obviously the quarterback position is critical. I would be sitting here being naïve if I was acting as though you have to make sure that you are covered. We have options on our team at the receiver position including Chad. I’m not as sure as that at quarterback.
What kind of offense is Jay Gruden going to run?
ML: Obviously everyone is familiar with the stuff Jon did in Tampa but Jay was a big part of that as well. He then had a chance to go out and do it on his own. He’s been a head coach in arena football, he’s done it in the UFL. The biggest thing I’m excited about is our ability to mesh the run and pass together. Put pressure on the defense by attacking. We have people that fit that very well. He brings great energy to that room. He brings a great feel how every position is going to be coached and critiqued without being one of those that micromanages. The installation of the offense with our coaches. You’re talking about someone who wants the right guard to step this way, the right tackle to step this way and on this play this is going to be the quarterback’s read, the receiver’s adjustment, the back’s track. To go through it that way and thorough and then disperse it to the position coaches. From a change to now him being on the sideline. As he said when you call the play in the huddle it should be exciting for the quarterback. When you sit and talk with him, he’s a football junkie and fanatic.
When he calls the play even if it’s a run?
ML: He knows it's going to work. I coached with Jon back at Pitt in ’91 and been good friends since then. When I went through this process after the season these things are important to me. Right now I feel good where we are.
If this is a prolonged stoppage how does it affect the installation process?
ML: They did it in the UFL in three weeks. Everybody has the same length. The retention of 80 percent of the NFL players is not what you think. I’m going to give 20 percent their due. Whatever happens that’s going to be the challenge for coaches. We’re going to have to go and do football at a very high level very quickly. Jay has a great feel for that.
More on Jay:
ML: Jay was a quarterback. He sees the offense through that guy’s eyes. To me that was a big plus to us offensively; put it in and install the offense through the eyes of the QB. With the addition of James Urban, he coached QBs in Philadelphia, I’ve added two people who mesh well together and help the other coaches know right away this is how it's supposed to look and what the real critical coaching points now.
Short period of installation and a new guy at QB possibly:
ML: It’s going to be a challenge. It really is. But we’re going in knowing that. It’s going to be important not to spin our wheels worrying about it and being paralyzed about it but to be proactive.
Kickoff proposal thoughts:
ML: We knew it was going to be a real drastic change. I think it really caught everyone off guard but the fact we’re trying to make an evolution in the game a little bit. I think we’re going to have a revision of it.
Did you like the original one?
ML: I liked it as it stood. I understand the push back.
Touchbacks at the 25-yard line?
ML: We didn’t want to affect the starting position. The average was the 27. If you put all the kicks together it was around the 23. We didn’t want to significantly alter that.
What other changes?
ML: Touchback and continue to allow a two-man wedge. There’s a thought that if your kicker was good enough if he could hang that ball up there, it really would help provide protection for the returner and on your game day 45 (players) use your sixth or seventh offensive lineman on returns because of the wedge.
ML: Not necessarily. There’s a concern if we don’t do that there will be more blindside traps and kickouts.
Get passed now?
ML: It will still be a battle because it is such a drastic change. (It did pass later in the day.)
If this passes. If you have a kickoff guy like Cundiff and a returner like Cribbs. You start to figure out a way to beat this. If you get the type of hang time?
ML: Right now when the ball is caught they’re between the 30-35. What they’re saying now is without the running start they can be at the 28. Our goal is to make that stop inside the 20, now it might be the 25. As Mike Brown said to me, when I first explained the proposal, 'my father (Paul Brown) would only return the ball to the outside because he knew that when you returned it in the middle you exposed your guys to more injuries until the game was on the line and then we put Jim in and ran it up the middle.'
Injury factor. From that perspective why the pushback?
ML: My wife wants this in college football. It’s a little bit of being uneducated. I think sometimes as coaches we need to take a look at the big picture. After being on this committee you get a whole different perspective of things. You understand why things are the way they are. When changes are made why they’re made. You hear from the GMs and owners perspectives. Sometimes as coaches we have to adjust a little bit. We’re going to make sure when the officials come out that they provide positive training videos to show good hits.
Is it realistic to think you can change what guys have learned throughout the years?
ML: We have seen a change. We had a bad week with the injuries in college football and the two in the NFL. Again there was a cry we have to get this changed. I think our guys did change again. We made the revision in the offseason and it didn’t quite sink in as much as we should have. I was coaching the Steelers linebackers (in the early ‘90s) when all of this stuff started. One week we were on the NFL’s biggest hits and the next week the guy is getting fined because he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated going to the head of the quarterback. From the inception, I’ve seen this evolution of things. Now our fields are better, we have bigger stronger guys having to cover bigger, faster wide receivers.
Can you still play defense?
ML: “We’re asking guys to adjust their target. You always coach to keep their eyes and head up. When you lead with the head you risk injury to your own self. You’re taught in junior high to flex your hips and see your target and have your head move to the outside.”
Nexus of problem is younger guys aren’t taught?
ML: Look at what’s happened. When I was in high school the coaches were in the school, they were trained educators. Now they do something else. The people teaching the game they’re not the educated people that we once had. That’s why USA Football and the things we do, the clinics. We need to teach the coaches proper tackling.
Is there a risk with the rules change of taking the Devin Hesters and Josh Cribbs out of the game?
ML: There’s a chance to minimize the impact or maximize it because the better returner will really be the better returner now. To have a great returner it may put him in play more.
No wedge would completely change the makeup of a roster:
ML: You still need at least seven offensive linemen and possibly eight. We’re always looking for the duel center/guard guys. Our league has evolved back to the 3-4 so that makes it better for special teams. You would like to have that other linebacker, running back or tight end but those guys are hard to find.
If I’m kicking against Hester I’m kicking out of the end zone:
ML: Our average kickoff was caught at the 6.5.
Not an automatic that every kick is going to the end zone?
Is there a real difference in pass catching between A.J. Green and Julio Jones?
ML: I think A.J. has really demonstrated an ability to make acrobatic catches. They both have a big catching radius because they’re big, long guys. For A.J.’s catching acrobatics, Julio’s ability to run with the ball once he has it. What do you value most? There’s positives to both. He’s dropped an occasional ball but the reason is he’s running with it before he caught it and is trying to score a touchdown.
Realistic to think it’s a competition between the two?
ML: It is. I don’t know about the three teams in front of us. A.J. has a pro day today and everyone will be there and get another chance to look at him. Julio is injured and not going to do anything before the draft.
To think of taking a receiver would be overkill?
ML: My boss loves offense. I think the process is to make sure we get the player that merits the value of where we are. You want to make sure whatever player he picks there is value with him. What happens in the draft is you get locked in on a position and maybe you overvalue the position and you don’t take the best player and you’re somewhat disappointed in what occurs.
Did you do that two years ago?
ML: No. We didn’t. I think today I still stand on the fact that Andre (Smith) was warranted for the pick where he was and it hasn’t been great circumstances. We all share in that. I’m not going to blame it all on him, it’s certainly not all on us. We have to turn it around and get a positive out of it. The foot injury has been hard and the guy the way he played in ’09 I was feeling real good about it. Last year he wasn’t the same guy on the foot. He is trying to do everything he can to get his foot right.
The roster lists him as a tackle/guard:
ML: I’ll fix that when I go home. Still a tackle.
Any thought of moving?
ML: Why? You would like your guards to be a little more mobile. Certainly Andre is not more mobile than either of those (starting guards).
When you evaluate receivers, what are the qualities you look for?
ML: I think No. 1 you look for a guy that plays the game like a football player. I think it's important for us to have a guy that is physically aggressive, who obviously has speed, and he has to have ability to catch. Only one of those do I think you can improve on and that's the catching part. The other part I don't know if you can improve the guy on. The physicalness to play the position or the speed part I don't think you can improve. I think guys can get better at catching the football and concentration.
When the kids were playing at receiver, they showed effort blocking in the running game.
ML: They showed good effort. That's what blocking out there on the perimeter is. You're not asking them to take the guy's head off all the time. Julio will.
Does that make him more attractive than Green?
ML: I think that is what is drawing people to him. The guy's a very, very good player. His run after the catch is a great ability.
Does his broken foot bother you?
ML: The last couple of years the guys that have had this have come out pretty good (Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant). These fields have changed. The dynamics of the shoes and everything. We're learning all the time and trying to educate these kids. It's really important. Those shoes are your briefcase.
After re-signing you said this was going to be a reboot. Did you think it was going to be as drastic as it could be?
ML: I had (an idea).
Is this like '03?
ML: It's like '03. My point is, these jobs, that's the challenge all the time. We look around the National Football League and the other 31 teams out there, its ever-changing. Our challenge is getting the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl. That's our challenge and it's going to be fun. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, we've got some holes to fill, we've got some guys that have to get better. As soon as we get working with our guys, we have a new way of life, a new way of doing things and I think that's important. That's exciting. Our fans have been very loyal to things. Everybody got jilted last year, but I think a lesson was learned. You can't talk your way into anything.
Like '03 you'll draft a young quarterback, but unlike '03 you don't have a veteran like Jon Kitna. Do you need to go get a bridge guy?
ML: We're going to do what we need best. People have done it differently since then.
You were praised when you sat Carson. Now it's in vogue to play a rookie.
ML: Not in vogue. They've been forced to.
Would it be easier to bring in a younger guy now because these guys are used to your system?
ML: I think we have some great toughness. Nobody questions the toughness of our team. When we started in 2003, things were different. I think now everyone knows what to expect that way. I think we have a very solid base defensively. We have great leadership from Andrew (Whitworth). We have a guy on the come in Andre who's trying to get this thing right and wants to be known as a great player, not just a good player. He wants to achieve the status of a good player. Until we got shut down here, he was trying to work his tail off. I think you're excited about that.
I like where we are with special teams. We had a setback last year with Mike (Nugent)'s injury but things have looked good. We know where we are with our punter. Kevin (Huber) is a very talented kid who's got to come back and have a great year. He didn't have as good a year as we all expected, but he can and he'll work at it.
It's exciting where we are with all those guys. We've got to look at our players and get them retained and all that. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, but it's what we do.
I think attitudinally we're a different team than we were in '03. They were afraid of putting their toe in the water. They didn't know if it was going to hurt or not. Guys like the Willie (Anderson)s, the Artrell Hawkinses, Kevin (Hardy), some of the guys we brought in helped us get through that and helped us get to where we were and brought other guys with them.
I'm excited where we are offensively no matter what occurs. Jay can come in and take some snaps if he has to. He's going to find a way to win. That's the important part. We need to find way to win games And do it right away.
Did you get a sense during the season that Carson had had enough?
ML: No. Carson was very good the entire season. Even at a point when we were 2-6, he said we're going to run the table and be 10-6 and get in the playoffs. One day whoever we lost to that week, I had him come in and talk to me and see how he was doing and so he stuck to that mantra all the way through. Even the next week. The last four games, two we won, but the Pittsburgh game was not his best game. Yet it was him trying to do too much.
You got two stubborn guys going at it; Mike and Carson.
ML: Nobody is going at anything. One guy spoke to the owner of the football team. He was told where his stand is and that's where it is. Everybody knew where things were going to be. That's the way it is. You make those determinations. So there's nobody going at anything.
Even if you could trade him, you couldn't.
ML: It doesn't matter. It's not really an issue.
There's a possibility you could trade for a quarterback?
ML: We can’t do anything. We're just going to get ready for football.
What do you think about Chad's MSL tryout?
ML: Yeah, like he could make a soccer team. ... What has he ever done that he's completed? What circle has he ever connected?
Do you worry about him getting hurt?
ML: They're putting their careers in jeopardy. They can do that anytime. Every time he walks across the street. It's no different.
Whatever quarterbacks you ever decide to work out or visit, what is the one thing you're trying to find out?
ML: You're looking for their abilities to process, their abilities to retain. The abilities to communicate football. Because that player is the epicenter of the offense. In this game of football in this age, they have so many things to do. It's so important that this person has to be the guy that can handle all that. I will say in college football the way these guys are being coached, it's amazing. They're getting some of that preparation.
You mentioned at the combine some of the things you worried about with Newton. One-year wonder, his offense. How do you project a guy if he doesn’t have that experience (in a pro offense)?
ML: I think those guys have done a good job in their preparation thus far. They've done a good job with the quarterback coaches who are preparing them for this, putting them under center, meeting with them, trying to teach them how coaches would coach them and I think that's good. We've got some coaches who have carved out new careers.
Did you have a different view of Newton after he did better at his Pro Day than at the combine?
ML: Yeah, he did a good job. Everything he's given, he gets better all the time.
Why did all of a sudden the light come on for
ML: He had two fumbles in our last game, so we're going to address that really well. Jerome has worked really hard in his time with us. He's kind of had some guys in front of him. We tried at the end of the year to give him some opportunities and he took full advantage of them. He enters this coming season with a degree of confidence. He had some but it was somewhat waning a little bit. But he's always been very confident. He works on his abilities and in practice all the time. I don't think there's been a guy that's played more snaps in the preseason for us than what Jerome has played the last two seasons trying to get him to this point to get everybody to trust everything he was doing. He played physical, he caught the ball well, he ran with the ball after he caught it, he blocked. He did things right.
How good can he be?
ML: I think he can be as good as any receiver in the National Football League. But now, he's got to keep taking steps to learn and the adjustments you have to do, but he's got that kid of quality.
Are you beginning to see what you saw when you took him in the second round?
ML: He always had the physical ability. He's learned to handle the mental part of the game much better.
If you don't have Chad, do you have a No. 1 receiver?
ML: When Chad got hurt, Jerome became the No. 1 receiver. How many (games) did Chad play before he became the No. 1 receiver? I think Jerome will be fine. We'll see where we are.
Do you shy away from trading for player with a draft pick in 2012 even though you don't know what that draft pick is?
ML: My opinion on that is, I don't think so. I think you do what's best for the team for the next two years. You don't worry about where the pick is in 2012, you do what you can to strengthen the team for '11. Whatever move you make you make it not for one year, but for two, three years. I don't buy that you wait until you know what the pick is. If you feel like you need to do it, you do it and 2012 takes care of itself. You're doing it to play in the Super Bowl in 2011. Then you worry about going back to the Super Bowl in 2012.
How do you feel about the defensive line?
ML: I think we probably developed some depth. Carlos (Dunlap) emerged last year, played great. Domata (Peko) fought through some things.
Is there a roster battle with veteran ends like Odom and
ML: We’ll see. Robert has done everything we’ve asked and done everything right. He's not been as effective as a pass rusher, but he does good job playing the right gaps. Antwan getting back to the way he played in '09 is going to be big for him. When we get opened up and start this season, that's what he's been charged with. He knows that. It's important to him.
With Jay Gruden coming in, what has that meant in the building?
ML: I think the overall energy he has shown. The fact there is going to be a change, and I think he'll do a fine job. It's unfortunate we had to make the change. With both him and James (Urban) this is going to bring life into our offense. That's good.
How tough was the situation with Bob Bratkowski, given he was fired three weeks after the season?
ML: Unfortunately it was done in that way. It was hard on everyone. It's unfortunate. I've known Bob since 1982 and it's hard. Hard on myself, Mike. We've been friends like that. He's got a great family. It sucks sometimes that way.
Do you think
ML: I think Rey is ready to take over however we decide to put things together. I think if he's given that opportunity, I think he'll excel at it. Rey Maualuga can handle it ( mentally).
You need a SAM backer if he makes the move:
ML: If we make that transition, we still have Michael Johnson on our team. He took all the snaps at SAM linebacker in training camp last year before (defensive ends) got injured. That was the direction we were headed last time. We'll see how it unfolds with the draft. We can be pretty formidable up front if that's the way I decide to do things.