When the Bengals take the field in Foxboro, Mass., against the Patriots in their NFL opener Sept. 12, it will be Marvin Lewis' 115th game coaching for the team that franchise founder Paul Brown coached in 115 games.
At the moment, Lewis doesn't know if he'll give Sam Wyche's record 132 games a run. But if he doesn't pass it this year, he says he'd like to be here next year and on Tuesday as he heads into his eighth training camp he sounded more engrossed by his team and intrigued by coaching than ever. After an offseason he praised the organization for making the moves he felt needed to improve a team he is still looking to take to a playoff win, Lewis stopped just short of saying this is his most talented team since he arrived in 2003.
But he did admit it's the most comfortable he's been with the chemistry and a roster that is asking only one rookie to contribute right away.
Lewis is fond of picking the defending AFC North champion as the favorite, but he can't do that with the Bengals coming off their first division sweep and every defensive starter intact with all but three offensive starters in place. So he couldn't say it's his most talented team when asked Tuesday in an interview with Bengals.com and *The Cincinnati Enquirer *setting up next week's start of training camp.
"I can't sit here and say that after saying it doesn't really matter where someone picks you," Lewis said. "(But) the returning players know their roles. They know how they can advance themselves, how they can improve on their position, and how they can improve us. I think the new players come in and have an opportunity to make impacts, but they're not counted on. We're asking a great deal from Jermaine (Gresham), but he's up to it."
The selection of Gresham as the first tight end ever drafted first by the Bengals is one of the many reasons Lewis is not only pleased with the direction the club took in the offseason but also why he likes coming to work every day.
"The skies opened up this year; we've been waiting," said Lewis of that long search for a do-it-all tight end. "You savor that broken watch. It's right twice a day. We ended up with a guy in my estimation as good as any that we've evaluated over the last eight years. He's as good as or better than any of them and he comes with no (dents). Some have had superior physical tools but have come with less than superior attributes. In this case, we got it all ... and tough."
Other reasons Lewis sounds invigorated:
» It sounds like the Bengals have hit the jackpot in the slot position. Lewis says Andre Caldwell was the most improved player on the team in the spring workouts and the drafting of Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley in the third round has pleased both him and quarterback Carson Palmer.
"He gets a guy that has kind of done it in the collegiate level at a high level, and played a similar spot and come in here and get in position to do the same things," Lewis said of Shipley. "Jordan has really exceeded my expectations of him thus far and I had lot of expectations from him. I watched him and Jermaine every Saturday night for two, three years. One of them was on TV every Saturday night in the hotel room.
"Andre is probably this offseason's most improved guy on the team. Yet both guys are kind of getting overlooked. You've got people pressing for (each) of them, which tells you we're in pretty good shape there. I think, No. 1, the quarterback is happy about that."
» Unlike his 2006 team that also came off an AFC North title, this one doesn't "even realize they won the division or cares that they won the division," Lewis said. "They felt like they could have achieved (more) and they were disappointed and came back and went right back to work. They didn't write books or rest on their laurels or beat their chests like maybe we did. The work force is stronger."
» One of his marquee players, wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, is now what he calls "the good Chad." Lewis says that guy disappeared for about two seasons starting in late 2006 and resurfaced at the start of last year.
"For the last year Chad talks about winning and a championship," Lewis said. "He doesn't talk about 1,800 yards and this and that. It's been over a year since we've heard that dumb stuff, which he can't control. What he can control is his effort out there and knowing where he's supposed to be and being in the right spot at the right time to help us win and I think he's more attuned to those things than he's ever been."
» At 51, Lewis says dealing with the myriad of personalities on the hamster wheel of the modern NFL keeps him energized. Only Jeff Fisher heading into his 17th season in Tennessee, Andy Reid heading into his 12th in Philadelphia, Bill Belichick into his 11th in New England, and John Fox into his ninth in Carolina have had longer stints in the NFL.
He took a panoramic view of his team, from his rookie tight end and veteran right end Reggie Kelly, to his veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth and untried young right tackle Andre Smith. Then he went to a defensive line that has an explosive pass rusher in Antwan Odom trying to find health and consistency, a solid veteran in Robert Geathers who wouldn't say "sand" if he had a mouthful, and a rookie trying to find NFL intensity in Carlos Dunlap.
And the world famous world traveler Dhani Jones in the middle of it all as the middle linebacker who wants to know every answer to every question.
"Hell, we've got Ocho so every day is new," Lewis said. "That's part of it. The balance between him and Carson. The balance with a guy like Cedric (Benson) who approaches the job the way he does. Then you've got Andrew Whitworth and then on the other side you've got Andre. Then you've got (center) Kyle Cook and then Jermaine and Reggie Kelly. The defensive guys you've got (safety) Chris Crocker, Dhani, to Robert Geathers to Michael Johnson, now to Carlos. We've got a crew and each and every day they take you around the loop in one way or another.
"I don't know if it can ever be stale in this NFL."
So on Tuesday the question came up and it is going to keep coming up until Lewis either signs a contract extension beyond this year or the season ends.
Lewis said he's had a few discussions with Bengals president Mike Brown about a contract since February, when Lewis suggested there were more than financial issues at play. On Tuesday he said he doesn't know what it would take to re-sign, but he indicated he was happy with how things went in the offseason and raised no such issues.
"I don't worry about that or think about that," Lewis said. "Mike and I at some point will hopefully come to an agreement. From both sides and we all feel good about it and move forward. We don't talk about it daily ... that's not me. ... I've never coached that way. That's not the way I see things. Maybe that's my fault."
Lewis said he continues to have a good relationship with Brown and enjoys the ease he has dealing with pretty much one person on a daily basis. And he said he's "very pleased" with the direction of the offseason.
"The advantage of that is it's still one-stop shopping," Lewis said of dealing with just the owner. "We can pretty much come to a conclusion and a direction, the two of us. That's important to him that we stay on the same page; that we leave that room and we decide which way we're going to go, one way or the other.
"Hopefully the Bengals fans in Cincinnati and around the country were (pleased with the offseason). We did the things that we felt were important to help the football team get better. We took those steps. When some teams didn't or weren't able to do much, we were still able to move forward and I think that's really a credit to the way they run the business."
Lewis said he doesn't think the question is going to be a distraction for the upcoming season because he says the focus is on football and he can only do what he asks his players to do that are in similar situations. But he says he has no burnout. He says he doesn't want to do a TV gig, and he says he would love to continue coaching for the Bengals.
"My coaching starts at 6:30, 6:45 in the morning when the first people get here and it goes all the way until the time they leave," Lewis said. "It may not be as much as the on-field coaching technique. It's the other kind of coaching I get to do every day. And I look forward to it. I do it when I'm gone. I've done it the last couple of weeks (on vacation). That's the fun part of this job. I savor the challenge of coaching. I would love to continue coaching here."