Brisk dawn of an era

4-11-03, 2:05 p.m. Updated:
4-11-03, 5:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Marvin Lewis used his trademarks of brisk intensity and heightened tempo to usher in the Bengals' new era at Paul Brown Stadium Friday morning. After meeting his team for the first time at this weekend's minicamp and putting them through their first practice, his players got the new head coach's message by the time they ate lunch.

"It was fun out there today, everything was a lot faster," said wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "Let's go, let's go, let's go. There was no walking around between periods. And Coach Lewis didn't have to stress running between periods. It was because we know what they want and what they expect and that's what you should want and expect from yourself."

The only cloud over Lewis' new day was the absence of running back Corey Dillon from the voluntary camp. Although players aren't required to be here until the mandatory camp in early June, Dillon appeared to be the only player not at PBS for the afternoon session. Dillon, the Bengals all-time rusher, couldn't be reached for comment.

Lewis didn't sugarcoat the absence, but he also said he wasn't surprised and didn't treat it as if it were the first major crisis of his administration. He has spoken a few times to Dillon and is even listed to play in Dillon's first annual golf tournament next month.

"No," said Lewis, when asked if it is a slap in the face to the coaching staff. "It's voluntary. We can't require people to be here. So we'll continue to move forward and his teammates are moving on and working and we'll fit the next guy back in the fold from this point on."

But the Bengals sounded like they had reached such a positive point Friday that seemed virtually impossible after they left PBS back on Dec. 30 in near revolt. Right tackle Willie Anderson stressed Friday his comments last season pushing for change were meant only to "get the attention," of people in the organization who could make a change. On Friday, he was glad they turned to Lewis, a man commanding their attention from the moment in Thursday night's introductory meeting he used his power point presentation for a "pyramid of success."

"The fans can be rest assured that it is being ran differently," Anderson said. " Around here, I think

that's one of the things people wanted to see and wanted to know. If there is going to be any kind of change. It's a big change."

Players observed big changes and small changes Friday. It was hard for Anderson to get used to seeing other coaches on a staff with 10 new ones, the biggest turnover in franchise history. For instance, it was the first time in his eight seasons that he looked across the line and didn't see defensive line coach Tim Krumrie.

Linebacker Adrian Ross noticed during special teams that the offensive and defensive starters were used as the look team instead of taking a break.

Everyone noticed Lewis, particularly during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11. He seemed to be everywhere, even during the pre-practice meetings.

On each snap, he coached someone, and not just on defense. Once, he didn't like the slow way the defense responded to a man going in motion and told them he was sitting in their meeting when their coach told them what to do.

He also found time to sit in an offensive meeting because Anderson said he was in their room for a long time and that was something to get used to, too. He got on wide receiver Chad Johnson about taking too many steps to make his move down field.

"He knows his stuff," Johnson said. "He was talking about me using my speed more. Instead of sitting at the line and making a move, you don't even have to do that. Just go."

The coaching chorus also felt strange to the ear. Johnson not only had Lewis in his bonnet, but also his position coach, Alex Wood, and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. As well as others.

"Not only are they getting on more guys, it's not just your position coach getting on you," Johnson said. "The defensive coach is screaming at the receiver. It's good. Last year, the only person to say something to you was your position coach. Everyone on your butt, can't do anything but change."

Dillon has had a volatile history with the club, but not since he signed a team-record $25 million, five-year deal two years ago. He was clearly angered and frustrated at times last year during the 2-14 season, but his teammates downplayed his absence. Ross, who is close to Dillon, thought he might be trying to rest a body that has taken a ton of shots in six years.

"He'll be here when it counts," said quarterback Jon Kitna.

"I'm sure there's a reason he's not here," Houshmandzadeh said. "He's got a family. We're going to practice and move on. C.D. is going to be here and when he gets here, he's going to get his 1,200, 1,300, 1,400 yards and we're going to play."

Lewis wasn't pleased, but he didn't unload on Dillon like he did when he wrestled with Takeo Spikes in the media two months ago.

"No problem," Lewis said. "I don't know if disappointment would be the word. I kind of expected it, but we'll move forward. I think our guys are fine with it. We're going to be a good football team and we're going to have people join us along the way, which will be the fun of it."

Asked if he thinks Dillon will join up and buy into what Lewis is building, Lewis said, "I don't know that he's not buying in."

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