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Long-range plan

Posted Mar 24, 2009

DANA POINT, Calif. - Compared to past AFC head coach media breakfasts at the NFL league meetings, Marvin Lewis' appearance for the Bengals on Tuesday was a veritable bed-and-breakfast.

New Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels looked to be hemmed in by the White House press corps in Day 7 of the Jay Cutler hostage crisis.

With Bill Belichick a no-show at these meetings, owner Bob Kraft presided over the busy Patriots table.

In his first appearance for the Browns, the inscrutable Eric Mangini kept his own horde at bay.

Even stately Dick Jauron for Buffalo had to deal with small but steady waves wondering how his Ivy League demeanor will handle the poison ivy of Terrell Owens.

But with Chad Ocho Cinco silent and Carson Palmer strong this season, Lewis pretty much just had to deal with his desire to get back to throwing the ball deep and how the acquisition of former Jets wide receiver Laveranues Coles revives his vertically-challenged offense and makes Ocho Cinco a better receiver.

Palmer lives about 45 minutes from the NFL meeting site, but he's had out-of-town family obligations this week. Still, Lewis hopes to hook up with his quarterback for dinner before he leaves Wednesday night. He reiterated to his national audience that Palmer's elbow has recovered and has been since the end of last season, when he missed 12 games.

"He's like a caged bull," Lewis said. "He wants to put his stamp on not only this team, but this season."

The chief casualty of Palmer's injury besides the wins was a passing game that yielded just one 40-yard plus pass to a wide receiver last season.

If Ocho Cinco's status is still up in the air, the offensive mindset is not with Coles and with/without The Ocho.

"Offensively we have to do things to get the ball back to Chad. To push the ball down the field," said Lewis, who is still emphasizing the run. But "when we did throw the ball, we didn't make any vertical throws."

Other highlights of Lewis' morning national presser:

» He said he was disappointed when the club lost right tackle Stacy Andrews to the Eagles in free agency because the Bengals thought they had a deal done a week before free agency despite the fact he was coming off reconstructive knee surgery.

"He's a guy that's worked hard to come back from his knee injury and I would imagine he would be ready to go when the season opens up pretty good," Lewis said. "I think he's got a great shot at doing that. (That's what) all indications were when he was in our building. He's a very quiet leader but a guy you'll have all the time.

"I'm not disappointed in free agency because that's the system. What's disappointing is Stacy led us to believe he wanted to stay, so it was up to his representative to get the contract done and we felt like we had the deal done and all of a sudden he walked away."

» Lewis indicated the offensive line is a priority right now in free agency, as well as the draft. He hasn't forgotten about the pass rush, but he thinks the experience factor under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will lead to more sacks, as well as a healthy WILL linebacker in Keith Rivers.

"No doubt we have to develop depth on the offensive line, whether that guy emerges as a starter or however it comes down between now and the draft," he said. "We have some irons in the fire with guys on the offensive line (in free agency). We continue to tweak around on the defensive line with the addition of the draft. We've got to get better rushing the passer. I think that's a progression from learning to play the run, being responsible enough to play the run and to know you've got to make the conversion to pass rushes. I think that's a maturity thing."

» With Belichick not in the room, Lewis shared AFC runnerup seniority honors with Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio behind Tennessee's Jeff Fisher. Lewis said that he's got "a very good relationship" with Bengals president Mike Brown that involves sitting down over coffee every morning in Brown's office. He said it was strong enough to survive last summer's very public split with his boss over Lewis' desire not to re-sign wide receiver Chris Henry and Brown's decision to bring him back.

"People disagree all the time. Unfortunately I let it be public," Lewis said. "We disagree about a number of things all the time. Some come my way, some go his way. In this case, unfortunately, I voiced my opinion publicly, really, knowing what his opinion was, and that ultimately he had the final say-so like any owner does."

» Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday picked the Ravens as AFC North favorites, but Lewis just laughed and said Tomlin's Super Bowl champions have to be the division favorite. With Baltimore a close second.

Lewis also thinks even though the Browns have a new head coach, their defensive transition is going to be fairly easy because Mangini's 3-4 stuff is similar to what Romeo Crennel did: "We're going uphill."

The wild card, of course, is Palmer. Even wilder is Ocho Cinco. No one really knows his mindset. Lewis laughed and said the silence may be "new strategy" compared to last year's six-month rant that failed to get him traded.

But he does think The Ocho and Coles make a good team and that Coles makes him better.

"You've got a guy coming from outside in and all he wants to do is be at the top of his game," Lewis said."They're friends. They know each other. They bump into each other in Florida in the offseason. Laveranues knows his career is at the time where he wants to be a guy that gets his team to the Super Bowl. That's all he wanted was the opportunity to do: To go to a team that had a quarterback he felt like he meshes with him and can get him where he wanted to go."

The thing that Lewis kept coming back to on Coles is he can help Palmer unleash the long ball again.

"His quickness and the ability to make cuts, to catch the ball and run with it, and make big plays that way," said Lewis of how Coles attracted him. "He can turn a five-yard slant into a 70-yard play and that's what impressed me. He was physical. He didn't let guys grab him and throw him around. He ran right through the grabs. He does a great job with body control, stutter steps, and double moves and those are things that kind of faded out of our offense somehow."

Lewis noted when the Bengals played the Jets and when Zimmer's Cowboys played Coles' Redskins, they never singled him up.

"The thing you know," Lewis said, "is you've got an outside or inside guy that's going to draw some different coverage matchups."

 

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