Blueprint comes to (young) life

9:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Willie Anderson is just now getting used to the names.

"We've got some athletes," Anderson said Monday. "No. 25? What's his name? Ratliff? No. 59. Johnson. I just learned his full name (Landon) during (Friday night's) game. He was all over the field. He was everywhere. That's the kind of guy Marvin is looking to bring in."

Regular-Season Marvin arrived right on time Monday, a heavenly event in Cincinnati like a solstice or an equinox, as he added an eighth cornerback, kept a 4.4-40-yard linebacker, and preached speed and poise.

Lewis again slapped his stamp on this team, an imprint Anderson first saw the Steelers, and then the Ravens use to dominate his division. Then Lewis rolled out his pyramid of success as bids to get his .500 Bengals over the top with 22 players not on last year's Opening Day roster.

First, Lewis revised a smaller, sleeker, faster 53-man roster that now has 20 players with less than three years of NFL experience, and raided the Redskins for another special teams player.

"You can see our speed. We've got fresh, young legs ready to run at each position," said veteran safety Kevin Kaesviharn, who agrees with his teammates this team is faster than last year. "At corner, at linebacker. Landon played really well. You could see his speed."

Then, on the first work day of the first week of the regular season, Lewis unveiled his pyramid by reminding his players they are 10-10 in their last 20 regular and pre-season games, and that mediocrity is done.

"It's about time for us to get over that hump," said Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson of the pyramid. "Time to get over that halfway mark. You could tell the way he was talking. You could see it in his eyes. He's ready."

Lewis is hammering home poise and confidence as the steps to get over the top of the pyramid. His players insist they are not too young to display both as they prepare to open the season against the Jets on the road, a place where they are 3-7 in that 10-10.

"If we've got 20 guys like that, then that means we've got 33 veterans," said nine-year linebacker Kevin Hardy. "There are more of us than them. The veterans have to step up and show them."

Anderson, who has seen all kinds come through here in nine seasons and 126 games, thinks the media has it all wrong. It's not a younger team. It's just a different team. Better and different.

"You get rid of an Adrian Ross, but you pick up a Nate Webster," Anderson said of the middle linebackers. "Same aged guys, it's just getting new blood. New kind of guys. Not younger."

Which is probably why the Bengals made no move to get the 245-pound, 29-year-old Ross Monday after the Steelers cut him. Instead, they opted to keep 235-pound linebacker Marcus Wilkins, a third-year player who ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash coming out of Texas and has had some special teams success in the league.

"Those are definitely my strengths," Wilkins said. "Speed."

Then, what looked to be another special need for speed, the Bengals cut rookie receiver Maurice Mann with the hopes of putting him on the practice squad so they could add former Redskins cornerback Rashad Bauman to the roster.

If Lewis doesn't think you can help on special teams. . .

Lewis helped draft the 5-8, 185-pound Bauman in the third round as the Redskins defensive coordinator in 2002, and watched him down two punts inside the 5 in one game. Much of his time in Washington was spent as the third cornerback, but there a lot of people in front of him here. Still, Bauman brings some speed and attitude with a bit of a reputation as a trash talker.

"We are better on special teams now than we were a year ago. We will continue to work and get better while looking to promote the guys we have," Lewis said. "I believe we are more athletic. We need guys who can go down the field and make tackles."

Special teams is one of the reasons they decided to go with two fullbacks instead of just one like last year and kept first-year man James Lynch along with starter Jeremi Johnson. Lynch is the kind of guy who says he loves to play special teams.

"Especially kickoffs," Lynch said.

Willie Anderson has seen this all before. He watched the Steelers develop stars behind other stars on special teams. He watched the Ravens sell out on speed on special teams. ("Their speed was unfair.") He believes Lewis has a plan for developing the younger players that he saw when he was an assistant in Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

"Pittsburgh's starters were special teams players five years ago," Anderson said. "Joey Porter wasn't playing then. Jason Gildon ran down on kickoffs behind (Greg) Lloyd and Kevin Greene and now he's their all-time sacks leader."

Anderson disputes the youth bit because no one on the offensive line has played in fewer than 33 games, except left guard Eric Steinbach. He looks on the defense and sees every starter with at least four years of experience.

But he can see the difference in speed.

"We've got fast, young, hungry, aggressive athletes that we may not have had before," Anderson said. "It's all how they're being coached. I know we have a good coaching staff, a head coach that wants a blueprint like Baltimore and Pittsburgh did it. Get some athletes and develop them, and in three years you've got a team full of athletes.

"It's faster (this year)," Anderson said. "He's had two years to build his squad. And next year we'll be faster because he'll bring in better athletes."

Kaesviharn, who along with Justin Smith, Tony Williams, and Brian Simmons are the only defensive players left from the 2002 Opening Day depth chart, can sense the youth and believes it helps the locker room chemistry.

"They bring enthusiasm to the older guys' legs. It's positive," Kaesviharn said. "It helps the team. It's my job to get them lined up."

Lewis says you can never be too young, But he's politically correct when talking about age.

"There is no such thing as too young. I bet we are not as young as Baltimore was last year, and they won our AFC North," Lewis said.

But, can you be too old?

"I believe there is such a thing as lacking athletic ability," Lewis said. "When you lack knee benders and playmakers, that gets you beat on special teams. It can get you beat on defense. I don't think that's going to be our problem."

The biggest problem might just be learning the names.

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