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Camp Downtown


Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is running the third training camp at Paul Brown Stadium.

The fans have become so accustomed to the Bengals homegrown downtown training camp as they head into their third season this coming week at Paul Brown Stadium that they have no problem finding The Holy Grail.

"Families are making a day of it. We see them for lunch and dinner," says *Jim *Moehring, one of the owners of the restaurant/bar on The Banks. "This is a great three-week run for us. I think two years ago people were scared about coming down because it was new and nobody knew how it was going work. But last year was really great. We always see them around and now that it is more developed down here it has really worked out for everyone."

Not only have fans found The Holy Grail, but everything else from PBS to Great American Ball Park and everything else in between. Literally.   On The Banks.

The first practice of training camp is set for 3 p.m. Thursday on the practice fields across from PBS, a site that is unique around the NFL. More than half the league is staying at their home facilities (18 of the 32 teams), but the Bengals are one of only a handful of clubs even close to downtown viewing and may be the team with the prime spot. The next best is probably Jacksonville. But no team like the Bengals sets up for daily open viewing as snug to downtown while getting the autographs and hellos after practice.

Throw in teams like the Saints traveling to the Greenbrier in West Virginia and Washington heading to the Bon Secours Training Center in Richmond, Va., and it's nice to have your club in the same area code.  

"There's no question it is helping us drive business downtown," says Mindy Rosen, senior vice president of communications for Downtown Cincinnati, Inc. "You've got a free, family-friendly event and the ability to do to other things to go along with it. The restaurants, a Fountain Square event, shopping at Macy's. (The camp) has definitely had a positive impact on the economics."

The Bengals gather with the usual round of questions that have greeted every one of their teams whether they were at Wilmington College (1968-96) or Georgetown College (1997-2011).

This year they are, in no particular order, the state of quarterback Andy Dalton's mind and contract, the roster expectancy of running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the wake of the drafting of LSU's Jeremy Hill, the effort to replace the two Mikes on defense (Mike Zimmer and Michael Johnson), the progress of a rookie center, the rehabs of cornerback Leon Hall (Achilles) and defensive tackle Geno Atkins (ACL), and the up-tempo approach of new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

The answers are going to play out over the entire 2014 schedule, but the first 16 practices on the calendar from July 24 to Aug. 14 (with a timeout for the Aug. 7 preseason opener in Kansas City) are going to be on display. The anchor dates are the two Family Days on Saturdays, Aug. 2 at 1:30 p.m. and Aug. 9 at 3 p.m. inside PBS.

Kevin Snider, a life-long season ticketholder, got up close to his Bengals as a kid at Wilmington and then went on the Scrimmage-Mock Game weekends with his college and work buddies at Georgetown. Now that he's got his own three kids, he's still enjoying training camp. But he prefers the workouts on the practice field.

"I'm lucky because I've got a flexible job and I can get down there," says Snider, a salesman who lives in Anderson Township. "I love the fact that I don't have to pack up the kids and drive an hour to get down there. It doesn't take the whole day. You can do some errands, zip down there and back and you still can get up close.

"I like to hear the coaches coaching on the field, so I like the practices on the practice field," Snider says. "The kids like being out there, too. We're lucky because we get the chance to go to the games and be in the stadium. But it's a great opportunity for people, especially kids, who don't get the chance to go to games."

 The move downtown appears to have also had a good impact on the preparation of the team. The Bengals have come out of PBS at the tune of 21-11 for two playoff berths, as well as an AFC North title. With the 2011 collective bargaining agreement changing the face of preparation by limiting camp to one practice per day, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and his football operations staff have adjusted accordingly.

Bill Connelly, the Bengals business manager who is Lewis' chief of staff during camp, has had two years to smooth out the bugs.

"The big thing is when we went away to camp, we were relying on people at the colleges to run a lot of it with our guidance and they did a great job," Connelly says. "Now our people have had these two years to do it and they know the answers to a lot of questions that we didn't have. We know what to expect."

One of the concerns had been the 90 minutes between lunch and the afternoon activities. At Georgetown the players had the luxury of walking back to their dorms and napping. But a coordinated shuttle service of what Connelly calls "vans that look like they're from an airport parking lot," to their hotel has made it almost as convenient.

Plus, the food service portion of the camp has dramatically become easier with Aramark already headquartered at PBS.

"At Georgetown, they had kitchen facilities that could feed the Lions Club or the Elks Club. Maybe about 100 people," Connelly says. "Then we were dropping in with 80-90 pro football players with their voracious appetites and asking them to feed 140 people that was more like 250. Aramark has done a great job for us and with their kitchen close by it's so much easier."

With the team taking its meals in the spacious West Club Lounge surrounded by big-screen TVs, staffers have noticed more players lingering at the tables, stimulating more conversation.

"That's a big part of training camp, too," Connelly says. Socialization. Getting to know your teammates and spending time with them."  

There are adjustments every year. With the Macy's Music Festival taking over PBS next weekend, food is going to be served one floor up in the press box for the first couple of days.

But a downtown camp has also spurred long-term changes. With a roster limit of 90 until the 75-player cut the last week of August influenced the decision to expand the locker room this spring. The walls forming the players' lounge were knocked down so that about 20 lockers could be added for rookies and new players and while they are in their own alcove it also opens into the rest of the locker room.

"It really is nice the way they made it blend in with the rest of the room," Connelly says. "No more temporary lockers in the middle of the room."

It will also be the final year of camp in their original weight room, which impacts the food service since a new cafeteria is going where the weight room is now. With the strength coaches hoping to lift more players together, the club is building a room twice the size on the other side of the locker room. The new cafeteria will have a kitchen that allows for a short-order cook.

Connelly expects those renovations to begin in February after what everyone hopes includes a spot for the most recent Super Bowl trophy.

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