3-24-03, 8:40 p.m.
3-25-03, 12:40 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
PHOENIX, Ariz. _ If the Bengals keep the NFL's No. draft pick, and they have had no serious talks about trading it, they won't be on the clock on Draft Day.
Head coach Marvin Lewis said Tuesday he hopes to have two weeks before the draft to work on signing the player they want so a deal can be in place by the time commissioner Paul Tagliabue steps to the lectern April 26. At the AFC coaches' annual media breakfast here at the NFL meetings, Lewis said it's in the best interest of the franchise to get a clean, quick pre-draft deal.
At least three of the candidates are out in the open. Quarterbacks Carson Palmer of USC and Byron Leftwich of Marshall, and Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman, are confirmed for pre-draft visits to Cincinnati. There may be a couple more because Lewis said they are mulling inviting Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers even though Lewis spent a lot of time with him at last month's scouting combine and last week's workout at East Lansing.
"It won't be a surprise on Draft Day," Lewis said of the choice. "As quick as we can, we want to come to a consensus and decision. No question we'd like to get our choice and pick decided and signed prior to the draft. Once the process moves along over the next two to three weeks, we'd like to get the thing resolved so that the last two weeks prior (to the draft) we have an opportunity to get the player signed."
Lewis admitted the phone hasn't been ringing off the hook for a trade, no one has approached the club seriously about a deal for the No. 1 pick, and "if we go to them, we won't get a very good deal." **
PLAY TIME:** On Tuesday, the NFL made all play-time criteria uniform for every team in the league. Until now, each team had been allowed to count snaps any way they wanted and handed out play-time bonuses at their discretion.
The Bengals were faced with the problem after this season when quarterback Jon Kitna was a few snaps shy of an 80-percent play-time incentive yielding him an extra $1.6 million in 2003. The league allowed the Bengals to make the call on whether or not they would count two two-point conversion attempts as plays. The Bengals did, and Kitna got the bonus.
Apparently, the league has now ruled all plays count, except pre-snap penalties. But Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee, said the switch to one uniform system had nothing to do with Kitna. It was spawned by the league's new play-for-pay scale that rewards players making minimum salaries or close to minimum, but who still take a lot of snaps. Those player bonuses are figured by a formula taking into account their number of snaps and salary.
STRONG FIRST IMPRESSION:** How big was Marvin Lewis' first impression?
Big enough Monday that he made it loud and clear during the first day of voluntary workouts at Paul Brown Stadium, even though he was nearly 2,000 miles away here at his first NFL meeting as a head coach.
Big enough that it drew the largest group of Bengals to a non-football voluntary workout since probably before the Super Bowl season 15 years ago. The working number is 70 percent participation on the first day.
Big enough that a disgruntled player such as erstwhile franchise quarterback Akili Smith has had a seeming change of heart.
Smith still thinks he'll be released post June 1 if the Bengals draft a quarterback in the first round. But after that, he's not so sure he needs a change of scenery after literally tasting the first day of the new coach's regimen.
"They've even got a menu of what we're going to eat each lunch," Smith marveled. "There was never lunch down here (during voluntaries). The workouts are fabulous. If it's going to be like this, to me, this is the big change."
Lewis is stunned at the amount of attention that has been focused on the mere first day of voluntarys. He doesn't dwell on the turnout because he is emphasizing that it should be routine and regular business practice.
"This is pretty much what every team in the league does. It's no big deal," Lewis said. " People are making
more out of this than there should be. There hasn't been a program here, so you really can't (compare) it to what's gone on in the past. It wasn't a structured program. Now it is and we go from there.
"It was an awkward way to get it going," said Lewis of his absence. "I wanted to sit down with some of the guys I haven't talked to yet, but there is plenty of time to get that done."
Part of the Bengals' woes on the field have been traced to the sparse attendance of an off-season conditioning program in which the number of players who came in March were rarely more than a handful.
Many believe if previous Bengals' coaching regimes had thrown Lewis' kind of support to the old strength and conditioning program, there would have been a more consistent structure. Now, Lewis is wiping away any gray areas with a $250,000 overhaul of a weight room overseen by Chip Morton and assistant Kurtis Shultz.
Linebacker Adrian Ross, on his first day back Monday, said the first thing he noticed as he walked into work was the weight room's new mirrors and the orange and black color coordination of the pads on the more than 50 pieces of new equipment. When the Bengals left at 2-14 on Dec. 30, there was a question of commitment. Not 84 days later.
"It was lovely," Ross said. "You can tell it's changed. I don't think there's a question. I didn't even see the (Bengals') logos branded on the weights until near the end of the workout. That's nice.
Linebacker Brian Simmons sensed his teammates felt the difference physically. The key for him was "a circuit," that involved lifting weights with little rest in between, and left the players challenged.
"The guys felt good about it. It was a full body workout," Simmons said. "That's the way it should always be. Guys were tired. It was nice to see the turnout and I think it's going to make us a better team. But guys have to buy into it. It's great to show up and all that, but they have to believe in what is being done and to work at it."
Morton said he was pleased with the reaction to the amount of the workload.
"A lot of sets with short rest in between," Morton said. "Metabolic conditioning. They key is to keep it going and to maintain the strength."
"I fell out with about three exercises left and had to go lay down for a minute, then I came back to finis," Ross said. " Some guys are going to fall out early on. I thought it was a great workout. It's harder than what we had been doing. I don't see how we can't be better just by stepping up the workouts like that. The thing was, it wasn't light weights and we were going quickly."
Lewis isn't going to rant publicly about players who do and don't attend. He has made it clear that he understands all players won't be there all the time. But he is hoping they will at least attend in "segments,"
POSTS AND PUNTS: The Bengals have picked up an extra draft choice for compensation in 2002 free-agent movement. He'll be the 259th player taken in the draft, giving them two seventh-round picks. . .
Don't look for the Lions to move up from No. 2 and trade for the No. 1 draft pick from the Bengals. No matter how much Cincinnati dreams about teaming Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers with Chad Johnson. Word from Detroit is the Lions could take a defensive lineman or cornerback if the Bengals take Rogers. . .
Quarterback Akili Smith is pleased enough with the changes Marvin Lewis has implemented that he is talking about sticking around and being happy about it. He wouldn't get specific, but said he is changing some things in his life. One is his agent, moving from David Dunn (Carson Palmer's agent) to Fletcher Smith, the agent for Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. . . .
NOTES ON A NAPKIN: Bill Walsh, who nearly became Paul Brown's successor as Bengals head coach, put the seal of approval on Brown's latest successor here at the league meetings. The Hall-of-Famer said the Bengals can be as competitive as any NFL team with Marvin Lewis at the helm. As one of the first college coaches in the NFL's minority internship program, Lewis, then at New Mexico, served a summer with Walsh's 49ers in 1987.
"Bill's first words to me were, 'You are going to have a chance to work in the best organization in
professional sports," Lewis recalled Monday. "With Bill, you got that aura of organization and how important it was."
Walsh, now a 49er executive, said he recommended Lewis to Bengals President Mike Brown at least twice in the interview process.
"Mike was impressed with Marvin even before and then after he interviewed him, he was very impressed with him," Walsh said. "He was impressed with everything. Marvin is a professional. He's a true professional. He's a no-nonsense professional who doesn't try to attract attention to himself. He's a coach. He can manage people.
"There's every reason to think that they're set to win a number of games this year," Walsh said. "I don't want to make a prediction for them and put a lot of pressure on him. But they'll be as competitive as any team in the league right now. They've got talent and with Marvin, they'll be very competitive." . . .
Former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason, the voice of Monday Night football on radio, got off a few good lines here. When asked about Cincinnati being a "quarterback killer," Esiason said it wasn't for him and Ken Anderson: "A lot of us are watching Kenny to see how he deteriorates in his older age to see whether or not Spinney Field is going to have an affect on us. He's our guinea pig."
Esiason is delighted in the Bengals' free-agent moves, but he recalled another time when free agents came only if they were grossly overpaid, or, "if they were 38 years old." Then, pausing with Seinfeld-like timing, he offered. "Hey, I did that."
One thing that isn't funny. Esiason's annual big bash a few weeks ago raised $2.2 million for cystic fibrosis as he continues to honor his son. Gunnar Esiason turns 12 in two weeks. . .
Lewis was a popular subject for NFL Films two years ago when it teamed with HBO to do the Ravens' video training camp diary "Hard Knocks," while he was the defensive coordinator Maryann Wenger, director of player relations for NFL Films, said Lewis is going to be the lead subject when they are tentatively scheduled to arrive in Cincinnati for Lewis' first minicamp April 11-13.
"It's something we do with new head coaches," Wenger said. "We haven't finalized it yet, but we'll probably either mike him for a practice or a meeting, and we'll do some interviews.'
Scott Carter, one of the soundmen for "Hard Knocks," had it pretty easy with the accessible Lewis: "Like any coach, he had that look that told you he needed his space. He was great with the laser pointer when he was breaking down film with the players. He did a good job of praising as well as criticizing."