7-23-03, 5:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
These are not the Who-Dey Bengals. They are the New Day Bengals and when the media gathered Wednesday for its annual kickoff luncheon at Paul Brown Stadium's East Club Lounge, the evidence glinted like Marvin Lewis' Super Bowl ring.
Lewis and his ring have already made it on about 30 billboards around the Greater Cincinnati area selling tickets and the Bengals unveiled pretty much the same picture on the cover of their 2003 media guide Wednesday.
Which is big news for an organization that hasn't put a coach on the front of a book since a snapshot of Bengals founder Paul Brown appeared on the cover of the "Press-Radio TV Guide," in the club's inaugural season of 1968.
Lewis won't keep score during the club's annual intrasquad scrimmage a week from Friday night between the offense and defense because as he said, "I don't think we play the Bengals this year." But he will keep score the following day in the non-contact Orange-and-Black Mock Game in which the starters will play the reserves.
Paul Brown's philosophy of understatement and team unity spawned a generation of media guide covers that feature more tigers than players. The last players to appear on a cover were Jeff Blake and Carl Pickens in 1996. The last individual players on a cover appeared with quarterback Ken Anderson (1984), wide receiver Cris Collinsworth (1985), and quarterback Boomer Esiason in 1986.
"It's a statement that this is Marvin's team," said Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham. "Being on the cover, I think, is a statement he has control of his destiny more so than any guy recently has been."
The Lewis cover idea came from the club's public relations directors, Jack Brennan and assistant P.J. Combs, and it didn't meet any resistance from management.
"It's something that has been shied away from in the past and it may be like naming a street after someone before they're dead," Brennan said. "But if you looked at how the offseason went and at how big Marvin's presence on the team and in the community has been, we felt it was the right cover."
"If there was a year to do it," Combs said, "this was it."
Lewis' depth chart isn't as surprising as the cover it came in. Free-agent pickup Tory James has supplanted Artrell Hawkins at right cornerback and the Bengals have replaced Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal with transplanted linebacker/tight end Chris Edmonds. The only rookie starter is left guard Eric Steinbach and Jon Kitna becomes the first repeat Opening Day quarterback since Blake started the 1999 season.
"Artrell Hawkins is still a very good football player," said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "In our league, you end up playing the third corner 60, 70 percent of the downs with three and four wideouts on the field. So there's nothing to be ashamed about being the third corner if that's the way it ends up."
Lewis indicated defensive tackle Oliver Gibson might not see many snaps early on because they want to bring him along slowly from the torn Achilles' tendon that ended his season after nine games last season.
But there will be plenty of snaps to go around. For the last several years, the Bengals have opted to go through a morning walk-through before an afternoon practice at camp. Now, they will have two practices on most days, wearing pads in the morning and going through a full speed practice in the afternoon in shorts and helmets.
"There is probably a little more time for individual work," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski , preparing for his third Bengals' camp. "(In team drills) there is some time built in so we can slow it down and teach. It's going to be different just because you have the two practices. It's a lot of plays."
Usually, the Bengals ran about 40-45 plays in their scrimmage, but Lewis said he's looking at 65-80 in the Aug. 1 scrimmage. The next day he'll stage the Mock Game, joking that he'll coach the team that has rookie quarterback Carson Palmer.
But there is a serious purpose. With a new head coach, a new defensive coordinator, and a new special teams coach, Lewis wanted to go through the mechanics of substitutions and playcalling before the Aug. 10 pre-season opener against the Jets in Jersey.
And there are the other smaller changes that Lewis has employed in his quest for attention to detail. For instance, if there is a spate of rain for a few days, Lewis has arranged for the Bengals to use the indoor facility at the University of Kentucky.
But media guides aside, Lewis isn't an off-season coach.
"This is why Mike hired me," he said of the season. "I think it's what I excel at and do best. Interacting with the players every day."