Posted: 4:15 p.m.
Marvin Lewis likes coaching the Senior Bowl because it is exactly that.
And while he won't comment on the current state of his assistants, he did say Tuesday that whether there are changes or not in staffing there is going to be an offensive renovation and two weeks from now in Mobile, Ala., is as good as any place to start after a four-win season.
"We've got a bad taste in our mouth and this is a chance for our coaches to get to work and to start grinding and get back together again," Lewis said during a break in his planning for the Jan. 24 Under Armour Senior Bowl. "It gives us a chance to raise our level of camaraderie and get back to do what we do and that's coach football. You can't wish on a star to get better."
Lewis has been a Senior Bowl coach under two different types of organizations.
LewisAs the defensive coordinator in Baltimore in 1998 he worked with a club that has a general manager in charge of a large personnel staff that is aided by coaches' input. In Cincinnati the GM duties are split among front office members, and the coaches' scouting supplements a small personnel department.
But Lewis has always pointed out that the coaches in Baltimore also had a say in the scouting process and on Tuesday he said it doesn't matter how many scouts he has, he embraces coaching an all-star game because the importance of what happens in Mobile occurs on the practice field.
"You don't hope to coach in the Senior Bowl because it means you had a bad year, but most teams like to do it if they have the chance," Lewis said. "I still think it offers the kind of exposure to players that your coaches wouldn't normally have. If you have your coaches do tape evaluation of players, then this is an opportunity to do real football evaluation of players.
"I want to do everything I can to improve our team and our players, and in my opinion this is a help. This is an aide for me to get to know the guys I wouldn't otherwise."
This week's announcement that Lewis's staff is coaching the North team for the second time in five years appears to be confirmation that there is going to be little or no change on the Bengals staff. But Lewis has eyes on overhauling an offense that finished last in the NFL for the first time in franchise history.
"If that's the way it ends up, that's the way it will end up," said Lewis of potentially changing the offense with the same staff. "I'm not concerned about that because we are going to change offensively. It's going to be a way different offense."
Lewis wasn't long on specifics. In fact he said, "Nobody outside this building will have an idea of the difference, but we'll be a different offense and an effective offense."
Lewis warmed to the subject when talking about Bill Cowher, the man whom brought him to the NFL in 1992 as the Steelers linebackers coach. Cowher, the former Steelers head man now waiting for the next job in the CBS studio, said this past weekend on the air the Bengals would go to the playoffs next year.
Cowher is basing it on the return of a healthy Carson Palmer and on Tuesday Lewis said the most recent MRI of Palmer's throwing elbow continues to point to no surgery.
"I agree with Bill 100 percent; that's a first," smiled Lewis, who had some spats with him in the Steelers-Bengals rivalry. "Bill's a great coach with very sound principles and we agree on the same principles. Tough. Playing good defense and running the football and that's how I learned the NFL. Through Bill and being around Bill and it's a great recipe for success."
Under first-year coordinator Mike Zimmer, the Bengals defense had its highest finish ever under Lewis this year at No. 12. He has heard the argument of the need to reassert the run in the AFC North since the Bengals running game dipped to 3.7 yards per carry in 2006 off of 4.2 in 2005. In '08 in 12 games without Palmer, it dipped to 3.5. Since '06 the Bengals are just 8-10 in the North.
"I would it argue it has to get back to that," Lewis said. "We're going to get back to effectively running the football and throwing it downfield and continue to build upon where we ended up on defense and get better on special teams.
"That's a universal term, 'Running the ball.' What I'm talking about is the effectiveness to create runs, how to create ways to throw the ball down the field, how to create big plays, how to have some variety. We need more variety in the things we do. And we need our good players to go win for us. That's how good teams win: good players that go play great."
If it sounds familiar, it is. Lewis sounded the running game siren last offseason. But he says injuries to fullback Jeremi Johnson and tight end Ben Utecht curtailed what the Bengals could do on the ground. And there was Palmer's injury. He says he's not looking to get away from a scheme that was wide receiver friendly.
"We still need to be receiver-oriented because we need to be able to throw the ball effectively to win," he said. "Yet we also need to block at wide receiver and that will become a premium and some other things that you're asked to do as an NFL player. We'll get guys trained and ready to go."
It is still a little early to know if Chad Ocho Cinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are going to be a pair or a solo act at that spot. But what is under Lewis's control right now is planning for the week of Senior Bowl practices.
"Basics. Fundamentals," said Lewis, and it sounds like that's where his offense may be headed.
"It helps us kick it off," said Lewis of Mobile. "It helps us to be more organized. It helps us be more game-plan organized when we get back here for the fall; to have kind of a once-through."