RELATED: 2008 Scouting Combine Index* * *
Updated: 7:30 p.m.
INDIANAPOLIS - NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke with encouragement Wednesday of Bengals middle linebacker Odell Thurman and said he would decide whether to reinstate him by training camp.
He also praised the club's effort at curtailing its off-field problems.
Goodell, who didn't reinstate Thurman last training camp after serving a one-year suspension for violation of the league's substance abuse policy, allowed Thurman back into the Bengals offseason program last month. The program continues next month with the beginning of voluntary weight-room workouts and then voluntary field work in May and June.
"He's back into a structured system," Goodell said during a break in meetings at the NFL scouting combine. "He's back in the program and we want him to continue to make progress. Should he do that, we'll make a decision by training camp."
Since Goodell convened a Conduct Summit of about 10 players from around the NFL at last year's combine, the Bengals have had just one player arrested after a spate of 10 in 13 months. Goodell said it reflects a 20 percent decrease in off-field incidents from last year.
"I know the Bengals have put an awful lot of time into it," Goodell said. "We look at it league-wide and clearly there has been a reduction in incidents and we look at that as a very good sign.
"We spent a lot of time with the players we had at the meeting a year ago, and we met with them again today about the issues players addressed and how we could try to deal with those issues more effectively. We're looking at modifications to make it more effective. ... There has been a particularly positive reaction from the rookies. I think the programs coming into the league helped them understand the issues and we try to provide them with the resources to deal with the adjustment to coming into professional football. The money you get and all the other issues."
"Last year was different; we were the poster children of what was going on," Houshmandzadeh said during a break. "We've got away from that and I think the NFL as a whole has gotten away from that. It's what we said last year: More education and information."
Houshmandzadeh joked that he probably let Eric Ball keep his job. But seriously, he praised Ball, the Bengals director of player relations, in the meeting with Goodell and other league officials.
"The player development guy and we have a great one. I think they're going to look into that a little more," Houshmandzadeh said. "Just making sure each team has a good one. Some teams have a good one and some teams don't as we found out. I told them ours, I think, is great, for what he does. He's probably more than a player development guy."
Gene Upshaw, chief of the NFL Players Association, has also noticed the numbers in Cincinnati and agreed with Goodell that the biggest impact has been made on the young players throughout the NFL.
"Any time you take a team out of the spotlight like that, it's great," Upshaw said. "It just takes time. You've got to plant the seeds. We saw a real big decline in the incoming rookies. As I tell these young guys here and at the East-West Game and the Senior Bowl, character does matter. They can measure how tall you are, how fast you are, and how high you can jump. But they can't measure character and that's what this is all about."
Houshmandzadeh said a big reason for the decline is how Goodell meted out discipline. Leading that list is the rejection of Thurman's first bid for reinstatement and the eight-game suspension he handed Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry last year on top of a two-game suspension in 2006.
"Education, plus punishment; guys know better," Houshmandzadeh said. "I thought he came out harsh a few times. But in the end, this is what he said how it's going to be."
Upshaw indicated he's not concerned at the unprecedented power Goodell has wielded since last April when it comes to discipline, saying his power is in the collective bargaining agreement. Upshaw said the key is that the players themselves called for something to be done.
HOUSH TALKS: According to an NFL source at the NFL Scouting Combine, the Bengals will meet Thursday with Houshmandzadeh's agent. Houshmandzadeh, closeted all day Wednesday in committee meetings, emerged briefly to say he's not concerned about his contract status.
Houshmandzadeh, the NFL's co-receptions leader this past season, is heading into the last year of a four-year deal. Kinnard McGuire, Houshmandzadeh's agent, is working on his first contract for his client. He had no comment Wednesday.
After Wednesday's session, Houshmandzadeh huddled with McGuire. He planned to fly back home to Los Angeles on Thursday.
COMMISH BUDDIES: On his way out of the meeting room at the Westin Hotel during a break, Goodell and Houshmandzadeh walked together and then stopped and chatted for a few minutes.
That's why Goodell cuts a popular figure with veterans like Houshmandzadeh and Takeo Spikes, the former Bengal and Bill and now Eagle that serves on the players advisory committee.
"He wants a relationship with the players and he wants a dialogue," Houshmandzadeh said. "He's cool. We talk. We have discussions."
Asked for specifics, Houshmandzadeh laughed: "We talk. We have discussions."
Spikes is extremely comfortable with Goodell after serving on the committee for the past year.
"You really get a chance to deal with him," Spikes said. "You're not in a big board room. It's an intimate setting. You can say what you feel. That's what he wants. We can agree to disagree. That's why I like him.
"The reason I like Roger Goodell is the fact he's open to hearing what the players are going through," Spikes said. "He wants feedback. That's the most impressive thing. It's easy for someone in his position to look at certain things and group them into one bunch. He'll come and tell you he'll judge everything that goes on case by case. Everything is judged individually. That's the way it's supposed to be. As a player, man-to-man, you have to respect that."
MORE SPIKES: One of the more popular players in Bengals history, Spikes continues to stick up for the franchise that drafted him in the 1998 first round. He says "it hits a nerve" when he hears head coach Marvin Lewis criticized for not winning enough games.
"People who really don't know, I tell them, 'Marvin is a hell of a coach.' I have the utmost respect for him. I even told him when I saw him today, 'Marv, I would love to play for you. But it's just the situation.' "
The situation is that in Lewis' first year in 2003, Spikes wanted out after five years of losing and Lewis talked the Bengals into not matching the Bills offer. The situation last year, after Lewis admitted it was one of his biggest regrets, was that this time the Bengals couldn't be talked into paying $4 million per year to a 30-year-old linebacker three years removed from a torn Achilles.
"No regrets,' said Spikes, who is loving living in downtown Philadelphia and playing for an organization he calls "all over it."
After tearing up his shoulder in the next to last game of last season, Spikes says he's back on target for his goal of playing 15 seasons. At 31, he's got five years left.
"I could have played," Spikes said of the finale that didn't mean anything when the Eagles got eliminated six days before.
Spikes said, "Andy (Reid) said, 'I'd rather have you next year instead of taking a risk not really playing for anything.' "