After a month of stocking their depth, the Bengals get the first look at their new roster Monday when workouts open at Paul Brown Stadium in the NFL's new offseason program.
Finally, A.J. Green, Andy Dalton and the rest of the youngest team in the AFC gets that offseason program they never had when the Bengals shocked the world last year with a Wild Card berth after the lockout eliminated the offseason.
Now that offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has had a chance in his second offseason to revise a hurriedly-installed scheme that yielded three Pro Bowlers, left tackle Andrew Whitworth is anxious to get to work.
"Last year we were just so concerned about learning a new offense so we could really only concentrate on getting in the right spot," Whitworth said. "Now we can worry about how to get to that right spot. Now we can get into the details and fine-tuning what we know instead of having to hurry up and just learn it."
Whitworth doubles as the Bengals player representative to the NFL Players Association and had a hand in reshaping the new rules of the offseason voluntary workout program that came out of the CBA that ended the lockout late last July.
Pads and hitting have never been allowed during the offseason. But with a rash of teams getting reported for violations and with an eye toward player safety, the NFLPA and the league agreed to condense the offseason and install more stringent rules.
Instead of players allowed to report in March (the Bengals usually went back to work the last Monday in March), the date was pushed back and the number of on-field workouts were cut back from 14 to 10. The one mandatory item, the June 12-14 minicamp that closes the offseason, can't have two-a-day practices (it can have a walkthrough) and must be held over three days during the week and not over a weekend.
Plus, coaches were prohibited from classroom work with players until their teams open the program.
The rookie camp of May 11-13 stays exactly the same. Two workouts each on Friday and Saturday and one Sunday morning. The one change this year is that it comes two weeks after the draft and not one. That's because rookies are allowed in the building on May 14, so Lewis decided it made more sense for continuity.
Plus, the rules that players can't be in the facility more than a certain number of hours per offseason day remain.
Both Lewis and Whitworth say the new rules don't change what the Bengals have been doing the last several years. And Whitworth says he hasn't had to go to the NFLPA to report any violations of the program.
"Marvin has always come to me first and told me to tell him if we think he's even getting close to going over the line," Whitworth said. "I don't think there are going to be many changes in Cincinnati. There were other teams that were really going over the line. Either too much hitting or extra work in the classroom. Whatever it was. But that hasn't been the case in Cincinnati so I don't think there's going to be much of a change at all."
The one change that Lewis objects is the inability of players to meet with coaches for four months after the season to go over football. And that's one of the reasons he's going to have more classroom work than he usually does before the players go on the field May 22.
"That really hinders the back-end-of-the-roster players. It hinders how they can get better in the offseason because it limits the time they can spend with their coach," Lewis said. "So when he starts competing for a roster spot the next year with maybe a veteran player you bring in from somewhere else or a draft pick, they don't have an advantage. For the practice squad guys and the last four or five guys on the roster, they don't have an opportunity anymore to work with somebody on their own."
Lewis says all the coaches could do at PBS before April 16 was set up a DVD or tape or whatever it is and let players watch it by themselves.
"At some point you have to teach a young player how to watch tape," he said. "Particularly a young player going into his second year. It's unfortunate that things were instituted and the big picture wasn't worried about. People were worried about abuse. Penalize the abuse. Don't penalize the people doing it the right way."
Whitworth agrees, but everyone knows how hard it is to legislate such matters.
"You've got situations on other teams where veterans were feeling pressure to do more work when it should be voluntary," he said. "That's like the stuff with the bounties. How do you police it? It's too hard. So you have to make it really clear. You can't have a gray area. There is no perfect solution."
Lewis says the strength staff led by coach Chip Morton has preferred six weeks of work in the weight room before going on the field and with the first voluntary practice (known as an "organized team activity" or OTA) set for May 22, it will be five weeks this year.
Instead of using all 14 OTAs, Lewis used 12 and one of them was usually a team-bonding, non-football activity. In the past Lewis has done an Olympics, a softball game, and a trip to the Kentucky Speedway, so there's no telling what he has on the docket this June. Or if he'll want to keep all 10 for the field.
Under Lewis the Bengals have routinely hit more than 90 percent for attendance for the offseason program and more of the same is expected Monday. Players who haven't signed one-year tenders can't participate and the club has yet to announce that kicker Mike Nugent has signed the franchise tag.
Whitworth won't arrive until next week as he waits for wife Melissa to recover from the birth of their third child, Michael Lee, who weighed in last week just less than nine pounds when he joined his brother and sister, the Lockout Twins.